APOCALYPSES IN ZECHARIAH.
I. CHAPTERS 1-6.
THE first eight chapters of the Book of Zechariah constitute a body of prophecies remarkably unique, and the first six chapters are conspicuously apocalyptical. The author calls himself the “son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo.” The name Iddo occurs in Neh. 12:4, 16, among the priests who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel, but the name of Berechiah does not appear in the same list, nor is it given in Ezra 5:1, and 6:14, where this same prophet is called simply “the son of Iddo.” Perhaps the father, Berechiah, died young and without distinction, and was not therefore mentioned by Ezra and Nehemiah, who name only the more distinguished grandfather. But our prophet may have been a different person from the son of Iddo mentioned in the genealogy of Neh. 12. The names Iddo, and Berechiab, and Zechariah are quite common in the Old Testament, and attach to a number of different individuals. We need not wonder that the personal history of even a distinguished prophet should not have been carefully preserved. It was the message, the revelation, not the personal history, of the prophet that was important for the purposes of Holy Scripture.
The main facts, important for us to know in the study of the first part of Zectariah, are recorded in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The short prophecy of Haggai, Zechariah’s contemporary, is also helpful for a knowledge of the situation and for confirmation of the statements of Ezra 5:1, and 6:14. The opposition of neighboring peoples delayed the completion of the temple until the second year of Darius Hystaspis. And not only the hostile feeling of enemies without, but disaffection within the Jewish community, ignorance of the law, abuses, and general disloyalty greatly embarrassed the noble leaders, who might well have felt discouraged in their efforts to restore the temple and city.
The Book of Haggai is an important aid to the study of Zechariah, and a brief outline of its contents will serve in part as an appropriate introduction to these prophecies. The first oracle of Haggai is dated two months earlier than the first date given in Zechariah (comp. Hag. 1:1, and Zech. 1:1). All the visions of Zechariah (including chaps. 1:7-6:15) appear to bear the date of the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month of the second year of Darius (1:7), which is two months later than the latest date mentioned in Haggai (Hag. 2:10, 20). From Haggai we learn that by reason of the trials to which they were subjected many of the Jewish people at Jerusalem had become discouraged, lost confidence, and concluded that it was no suitable time to attempt the building of the temple. But many of them builded ceiled houses for themselves, and grew careless in matters of religion. As a consequence they were visited with the judgments of drought and scarcity. We have, accordingly, in Hag. 1:1-11, the prophetic word of rebuke, admonition, and command to gather material and build the house of God, and in verses 12-15 the happy result of this prophet’s ministry. The second oracle is dated a month later (2:1), and is full of encouragement for Zerubbabel, and Joshua, and the people. The third oracle is two months later (2:10) and consists of further admonition and counsel, and the fourth and last oracle bears the same date (2:20) and is a prophecy of the overthrow of all enemies and the honor of Zerubbabel as Jehovah’s chosen servant.
We must not leave this prophecy of Haggai without a comment on the remarkable picture of Jehovah’s dominion over the world, as given in chap. 2, verses 6 and 7 and 20-23. Jehovah declares that he is about to “shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land, and all the nations, and fill this house with glory, and overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations.” When Haggai and Zechariah prophesied, Assyria had fallen before the power of Babylon; Babylon in turn had fallen before the armies of the Medes and Persians; Egypt had succumbed to the forces of Persia, and the vast Persian empire, which then overshadowed the oriental world, was destined to be broken to pieces by the might of Alexander, the great Grecian conqueror from the west. In all these facts the prophets of Israel saw that the God who overthrew Pharaoh and his chariots in the days of Moses was the supreme Ruler of the nations, and was able to overthrow or build up according to his own infinite wisdom and pleasure.
Haggai’s oracles thus prepared the way for the visions of Zechariah, and helped to intensify the expectations which they must have excited. We can now see the historical situation, without which we cannot appreciate the apocalypses of the son of Iddo. Recently returned from the lands of the exile, and distressed over the persistent opposition of the Samaritans and the feebleness of the Jews at Jerusalem, Zechariah may naturally have felt that his people had come to a desperate crisis in their history. How terribly had they been scattered and humbled by the great powers of the world! Jehovah had been sore displeased with their fathers (1:2). Sword, and famine, and exile had visited them. The words of the former prophets had overtaken them, and proven beyond all cavil that Jehovah’s oracles were sure. And now no human power, no forces at their command, could rationally hope for successful conflict with the nations. The contempt with which neighboring enemies looked upon them is seen in Neh. 4:2, 3, where Sanballat says: “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they revive the stones out of the rubbish?” And Tobiah the Ammonite replies, “Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall break down their stone wall!”
But God’s thoughts and ways are not as man’s. Zechariah was divinely commissioned to show his people that their triumphs were not to be brought about by the might and power of empire, but by the Spirit of Jehovah of hosts. Five times over in the short introduction of Zech. 1:1-6, does the prophet repeat the expression “Jehovah of hosts.” The revelations of Zechariah are like the answer to Elisha’s prayer for his young servant, when the horses and chariots and hosts of the king of Syria encompassed him, and caused him to cry out in despair, “Alas, my master, how shall we do?” In answer to the prophet’s prayer, “The Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha!” (2nd Kings 6:17.) So the visions of Zechariah opened the eyes of his people to the invisible hosts of Jehovah, assuring them that the protecting ministries of heaven are more and mightier than all the forces of the kingdoms of the nations.
The Angelic Horsemen, chap. 1:7-17.
After the mention of the date (verse 7) the first vision of Zechariah is recorded in a single verse (8), as follows: “I saw in the night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the shady place; and behind him there were horses, red, sorrel, and white.” The meaning of this vision of the night is to be derived mainly from what follows in verses 9-11, but the appeal of the angel of Jehovah in verse 12, and the gracious answer of Jehovah in verses 13-17, enable us to understand the import and significance of the revelation.
The prophet asked of his angelic interpreter, “What are these?”—that is, what do they signify? The man that appeared upon the red horse among the myrtles answered, “These are they whom Jehovah hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth” (verse 10). Whereupon the whole company of riders on the horses of different colors joined in and said, “We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still and is at rest” (11). These angelic riders were visional symbols of the “hosts” of Jehovah, who execute his will “in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Dan. 4:35). They symbolize the myriad agencies by which Jehovah shakes all nations and overthrows the thrones of the kingdoms, as Haggai had prophesied (Hag. 2:7, 22). He controls the armies of heaven and of earth, and can at his word set the world in commotion or cause it all to sit still and be at rest (verse 11). The fact that these leaders of God’s host had at that time brought about such conditions of quiet in all the earth showed that it was a most favorable time for the Jewish people to complete the temple at Jerusalem.
We need attach no mystical significance to “the myrtle trees” and “the shady place” where the riders were seen to stand (verse 8). They simply supply an appropriate background for the picture. The horsemen appear as if in a retired and quiet place, reposing after action. They have been marching to and fro through the earth, and have brought all things to a state of rest. Nor should we look for any special meaning in the different colors of the horses other than the general idea suggested by comparison with chap. 6:2-7, and Rev. 6:1-8. These do not naturally designate the different lands, kingdoms, and nations to which the riders were sent, but rather different kinds of agencies by which God executes judgment among the nations. A clew to this feature of the symbolism is found in Ezek. 14:21, where the Lord speaks of his “four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beasts, and the pestilence.” Compare the “wars, famines, earthquakes, and pestilences” of Matt. 24:7, and Luke 21:11. With white we most naturally associate the idea of victorious wars; with red, bloodshed and slaughter; with black, pestilence and famine. But when several colors are mentioned together, as in Zech. 1:8, there is no occasion to attempt to discriminate and inquire into the distinct significance of each.
The comforting assurance of the vision is enhanced by the gracious promises of Jehovah, recorded in verses 13-17. They are noteworthy as given in answer to the prayer of the angel of Jehovah (in verse 12), and are called “good words, consolations” (verse 13). They consist of the three impressive thoughts: Jehovah’s jealousy for Jerusalem and Zion (verse 14); his displeasure with the nations (15); and his purpose to restore and enlarge Jerusalem (16, 17). “My house shall be built therein,” he says. The former wrath has passed away, and Jehovah shall again “comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.” And so by direct promise as well as symbolic vision did Jehovah strengthen his people in their time of need. The prayer of Jehovah’s angel availeth more than all the armies of the world, and the vision of angelic horsemen, like that of the mountain full of horses and chariots round about Elisha, gave assurance that Jehovah’s hosts were more and mightier than all that could come against them.
The Horns and the Workmen, chap. 1:18-21.
The prophet next beheld “four horns,” whether of oxen or some other animals is not mentioned, and therefore needless to inquire. The horn is a symbol of power. Especially in a wild or furious animal does it suggest the idea of tossing and tearing that which comes in its way. These four horns were symbols of the hostile powers that had scattered Judah and Israel.
The general apocalyptical significance of the number four is noticeable in this twofold vision of four horns and four smiths. In chap. 2:6, the Jewish people are said to have been scattered or “spread abroad as the four winds of the heavens.” This general concept of the four winds, or the four corners of the earth (Isa. 11:12; Ezek. 7:2; Rev. 7:1), warrants our calling four the symbolic number of the world (see Introduction, p. 20). Attempts to point out mathematical or literal significance in apocalyptic numbers are misleading. It matters not in the exposition of this vision whether the powers that scattered Israel were exactly four in number, or five, or seven, or ten.
Over against the four horns, the prophet saw “four smiths, coming to terrify them, to cast down the horns of the nations, which lifted up their horn against the land of Judah to scatter it” (verse 21). Here again the number four is to be understood in the same general way as in the vision of the horns. Some interpreters suppose that the four horns symbolize the four kingdoms of Daniel’s prophecy; others understand Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, and Persia. The smiths have been explained as Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Cam. byses, and Alexander; or Zerubbabel, Joshua, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Some have found in them symbols of the four cherubim, and others of the four evangelists!
The great lesson of this double vision is to be seen, not in detailed efforts to find precisely four persons or powers to answer to that number of horns and of smiths, but in the fact that for every horn that ever scatters his people God will in due time provide a Smith to terrify and cast down the oppressor. It may indeed be affirmed, by way of special illustration, that for every horn like Assyria, and Babylon, and Egypt, he raises up a hower like Nebuchadnezzar, and Cyrus, and Alexander to smite and overthrow the presumptuous power. So in Jer. 51:20, Jehovah thus addresses a nation that is employed to accomplish his work of judgment (it may be any nation or conqueror that serves such a purpose): “Thou art my battle-ax (or maul) and weapons of war: and with thee will I destroy kingdoms; and with thee will I break in pieces the horse and his rider; and with thee will I break in pieces the chariot and him that rideth therein.”
The prophet and the people of Judah are thus further assured that their God will not leave them to be annihilated by the great powers of the world. Though Israel be scattered to the four winds, and mightily oppressed, Jehovah has abundant power “to cast down the horns of the nations,” and to restore and vindicate those who have been for a while the spoil of their enemies. In its essential character, and in the lessons of comfort it furnishes, this vision is thus seen to have a very natural relation to the one that precedes it. It supplements and confirms the doctrine of the vision of the angelic horseman, and is to be compared further with the teaching of the vision of the four chariots in chap. 6:1-8.
The import of this vision and of the prophetic oracle attached to it (verses 6-13) may be best presented in a series of observations:
1. The word translated “measuring line” in verse 1 is not the same Hebrew word translated line in chap. 1:16, but it has the same general signification. It is a line of measurement intended to determine the limits of the city’s breadth and length (verse 2).
2. The “young man” of verse 4 has been supposed by many to be the prophet himself. If we adopt this view the scene must be explained as follows: The prophet sees a man with a line going forth, and asks him whither he is going; whereupon he receives the reply of verse 2. Then the interpreting angel (same as in 1:9; 4:1, 4; 5:5) goes forth from the side of the prophet as if to speak with the man with the line, but is met by “another angel” (verse 3), who tells him (that is, the interpreting angel) to run back and speak to the prophet (=“this young man”) and say to him what is written in verses 4-13. I prefer, however, the view which identifies the “young man” of verse 4 with the “man with the measuring line” in verse 1, and regards the whole chapter as an object lesson depicted before the prophet’s eyes. According to this view, the angel interpreter of verse 3 went forth and was met by “another angel,” who presented himself as a subordinate, and who was commanded by the interpreting angel to run and speak to the young man who had the measuring line in his hand (that is, the man mentioned in verse 1), and who was about “to measure Jerusalem” (verse 2), and tell him that such a work of measurement would be a useless labor. For the new city was to “be inhabited as villages without walls, by reason of the multitude of men and cattle therein” (verse 4). Jehovah himself further declares that he will be “a wall of fire round about her and a glory in the midst of her” (verse 5). But, whichever of these views be adopted, the main lesson of the vision remains the same. We note the extent and variety of angelic ministrations in the visions of the prophet. He conceives heaven and earth as full of ministering spirits in the forms of men (compare the young man sitting in the tomb of Jesus, Mark 16:5), who do the will of “Jehovah of hosts.”
3. The import of the vision is not difficult to understand. Jerusalem is to outgrow her former limits and be occupied as an unwalled town, without fear of molestation; for Jehovah purposes to defend his people, as in the exodus, by the pillar of fire. The “wall of fire round about” and the “glory in the midst” should also be compared with Isa. 26:1, and 60:19. But it is as little necessary to understand the wall of fire and the glory literally as it is to insist that the things seen in vision by the prophet were actual realities. The symbols and metaphorical language were the apocalyptic method of conveying the divine assurance of Jehovah’s presence with his people and of his omnipotent protection.
4. The divine assurance thus symbolically revealed is the basis of the poetic oracle which immediately follows in verses 6-13. The scattered exiles are exhorted to “flee from the land of the north” (that is, Babylon and the adjacent regions), with the obvious implication that they come and help to rebuild and re-people Judah and Jerusalem. These exiles are poetically addressed as “Zion that dwellest with the daughter of Babylon.”
5. Verses 10-13 are to be taken as a prophecy of the Messianic time. For while much that is promised or implied in the whole passage of verses 4-13 was actually fulfilled in the restoration of Jerusalem by the returned exiles, the full import of this inspiring oracle of promise is to be realized in the Gospel age. The restored and enlarged Jerusalem of the post-exile time is but a symbol and type of the new Jerusalem that cometh down out of heaven from God, in which the nations of the saved shall walk. Comp. Rev. 3:12; 21:2, 10, 24; comp. also Isa. 2:2; 60:3, 11, and especially Hag. 2:7-9.
The concluding verse of this chapter (verse 13) is an outburst of inspired emotion, and very appropriately concludes the address to Zion which begins with verse 10. Comp. Hab. 2:20, and Zeph. 1:7.
The Typical High Priest, chap. 3.
After the glorious word of promise for the fallen city and the captive daughter of Zion there immediately follows a vision of blessed hope for the fallen and dishonored priesthood. The chapter may be divided into three sections:
1. The high priest’s humiliation depicted, verses 1-3.
2. The removal of the filthy garments and putting on of suitable apparel, verses 4, 5.
3. The testimony (____) of Jehovah, verses 6-10.
In the first section we have a picture of the high priest in a condition of bitter humiliation; an object of derision for the adversary of God and his people. Satan is seen to stand as the accuser. We may imagine him saying, “See what a priest is here! How changed, how fallen from the dignity and holiness becoming one whose office is to minister in sacred things!”
We must bear in mind that in this vision of Zechariah we have only a symbolical picture. We are not to suppose that Joshua ever actually stood before Jehovah or his angel in filthy garments, or that Satan actually received the rebuke here recorded. The picture taken as a whole is a visional symbol of the people’s representative before God, laden with their humiliation and reproach, and showing up the condition expressed in Isa. 64:6: “We are all become as one that is unclean, and all our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment.”
The rebuke of Jehovah in verse 2 brings no “railing accusation” (comp. Jude 9), but calls attention to the fact that this is like “a brand plucked out of the fire.” The Babylonian captivity had been a “furnace of affliction,” by means of whose purging fires Jehovah purposed to refine his people (comp. Isa. 48:10). The restored community at Jerusalem, represented before God in the person of their high priest, was as “a brand plucked out of the burning” (comp. Amos 4:11), and to be pitied in its helplessness and lack of external beauty, not ridiculed by Satanic malice. The removal of the soiled garments and the putting on of “rich apparel and a fair miter” (or turban, verses 4, 5), such as became the high priest, was a symbolic prophecy of the restoration of the fallen priesthood to its former glory. And so the vision was a helpful word of Jehovah unto Joshua (comp. 4:6). Though he might well feel at times that he was but a soiled brand, plucked from the fires of Babylonian exile, he was divinely assured that Jehovah would be his defender and redeemer. Satan is rebuked, and angels come and minister unto him. The abundant ministry of angels, noticeable especially in verses 4 and 5, is but the machinery, so to speak, of prophetic symbolism. They serve to vivify and deepen the impressiveness of the symbolism.
But the import of the vision is enhanced by the oracular testimony of Jehovah, which follows in verses 6-10. This protestation, or solemn testimony, furnishes Joshua and his associates in the holy office assurances of heavenly fellowship and participation in holiest mysteries. The passage is not easy of interpretation in its details, although the general purport of comfort and assurance is obvious to every reader.
Verse 7 assures Joshua that, on condition of obedience and fidelity to his sacred trust, he should be a judge of Jehovah’s house and a keeper (guard or watchman) of his courts. It is further promised, “I will give thee a place of access among these that stand by.” By “the ones that stand by” we naturally understand the angels of this vision (comp. verses 4 and 5); but the significance in this place of the word (____) translated “a place of access,” is not so apparent. The word itself is the plural form of either the intensive or causative participle of the verb (___) which means to walk. The common English version translates it “places to walk.” The best interpreters incline to the view which recognizes in the word some free access to God, such as the angels are supposed to enjoy. The priest will thus be conceived as himself an angel of God, walking in and out before him on holy ministries, and, accordingly, in fellowship with the angels who “stand before Jehovah.”
This lofty concept is still further enhanced by the statements of verse 8. Not Joshua only, but his “fellows” that “sit before” him, and are thus closely associated with him in the priestly office, are declared to be characters of typical significance: “For men of sign are they.” That is, they are persons of typical office and character, signs or types of a great Antitype who is destined in the plan of God to be brought forth in due time. This great Antitype is immediately mentioned as “my Servant Branch.” There is no article before the word translated Branch, and it seems clearly to be here intended as a proper name. This Branch is the Messiah, whom Jehovah promises to bring forth into manifestation. He will be the one final and all-sufficient high priest who, “because he abideth forever, hath his priesthood unchangeable” (Heb. 7:24). The efficiency of this servant of Jehovah as priest is indicated further in the last statement of verse 9: “I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day;” that is, “once for all” (____, as in Heb. 7:27; 9:12; 10:10), not on repeated days of atonement, occurring once a year and perpetually.
Verse 9 is notably obscure. “The stone,” “seven eyes,” and “the graving” are so many mysteries. Two opinions concerning “the stone set before Joshua” deserve attention. (1) According to some exegetes there is reference to some particular foundation stone of the new temple which had been laid in the presence of Joshua (comp. Ezra 3:9, 10). Such stone is here conceived as typical or symbolical of the covenant people, who are builded up as lively stones into a spiritual house (1st Peter 2:5), and “the graving” or carving must accordingly be understood as the ornamentations and inscriptions which Jehovah may be conceived as having set upon his people. This imagery would not be essentially different from that of sealing the elect of God (comp. 2nd Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30; Rev. 7:2; 9:4). (2) According to others the stone is to be regarded as another symbol of the Messianic Servant of Jehovah. He is not only a Branch but a Stone. Compare the analogous imagery of Isa. 28:16: “Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner of sure foundation” (comp. also Psalm 118:22; Matt. 16:18; 21:42; 1st Cor. 3:11; Eph. 2:20-22; 1st Peter 2:4). This view seems on the whole to be the more satisfactory interpretation. The word to Joshua would then in substance be: Not only will I bring forth my Servant Branch, but I will also make the stone which I have set before Joshua a symbol of the living Stone and Rock of Israel, in whom is all my delight, and on whom I will continually keep my “seven eyes” (comp. 4:10), and whom I will beautify and honor with the inscription of highest and holiest names (comp. Rev. 19:16). “The seven eyes upon the stone” are most naturally explained as “the eyes of Jehovah” mentioned again in 4:10. They symbolize the omnipresent oversight and care of God, which are ever turned upon his chosen Servant as well as on all his people. The result of this all-seeing providence will be the coming of one greater than Joshua, the son of Jozadak, even the Jesus of the New Covenant, who “saves his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21), and, in the mystic language of our prophet, “removes the iniquity of the land in one day.” The blissful state of peace and prosperity which is to follow this redemption is stated in verse 10 in a form of expression proverbial with the Hebrew prophets (comp. 1st Kings 4:25; Isa. 36:16; Micah 4:4).
Joshua appears again in chap. 6:9-15, as a type of the future Messianic Branch. In the symbolico-typical act there portrayed we find the conclusion of the visions of Zechariah.
The Golden Candlestick, chap. 4.
This fifth vision is declared in verse 6 to be “a word of Jehovah unto Zerubbabel.” It is, accordingly, to be understood as a counterpart of the fourth vision, which we have seen to be conspicuously a word of Jehovah unto Joshua, the priest, a word of encouragement and of glorious promise. The first five chapters of the Book of Ezra inform us how closely these two men were associated in the reorganizing of Israel after the Babylonian exile and in rebuilding the house of God at Jerusalem. Zerubbabel was the princely leader of the people, and the second temple is often called the temple of Zerubbabel, as the first was called the temple of Solomon. Zerubbabel was of the tribe of Judah, a descendent of David, and so represented the royal family. He is called, in Ezra 1:8, “prince of Judah,” but he was never recognized as king, and made no pretension to the throne of David. He was the captain of the first band of exiles that returned to Jerusalem, and represented the regal and secular authority so far as such rule was allowed in the subject-condition of the Jewish people at that time. He must have seemed small and insignificant before such a monarch as Cyrus or Darius, and might well have felt discouraged over the fallen fortunes of Israel, as Joshua had reason to feel humiliation over the fallen condition of the priesthood. The vision of the golden candlestick was therefore adapted to cheer him as the foregoing vision was adapted to cheer Joshua, and both are to be recognized in “the two sons of oil” symbolized by the two olive branches in the vision.
In the main this vision is of easy interpretation. In the light of the foregoing observation we cannot fail to see how specifically it was Jehovah’s word unto Zerubbabel. The chapter may be divided into three sections, as follows: (1) The candlestick and the trees as seen in the vision (verses 1-3); (2) The explanation as a word for Zerubbabel (4-10); and (3) the special explanation of the two olive trees.
The candlestick was peculiar by reason of its connection with two olive trees, one upon the right and the other at the left side of it. A conspicuous “bowl upon the top of it” connected “its seven lamps” with the olive trees by means of a multitude of pipes on the lower part, and “two golden spouts” above (verse 12), which latter received the golden oil from the two trees and poured the same into the bowl, while the former conveyed the same oil from the bowl into the seven lamps. The candlestick is an appropriate symbol of the Church (comp. Rev. 1:20). This particular candlestick was a symbol of the Jewish Church as existing in Jerusalem at that time. God’s people, as a united community, are conceived as the light of the world. The candlestick, or lamp stand (____), is the bearer (or holder) of that which gives forth the light; and so the Church, as an organized community, affords a position and opportunity for each particular member of the body to give light “unto all that are in the house” (Matt. 5:14-16).
The “great mountain,” addressed in verse 7, is a symbol of all the obstacles which confronted Zerubbabel in his work of rebuilding the temple. Compare illustrations of similar imagery in Matt. 17:20; 21:21. Such mountains melt and vanish away before the touch of God (Micah 1:4). The opposition of those “adversaries of Judah and Benjamin” (Ezra 4:1), who “weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building” (Ezra 4:4), was a mountain of difficulty in the way, but destined to be brought low by the authority of Darius, the king of Persia. Perhaps also we should see in this mountain an allusion to the great overshadowing might of worldly empire, under which Judah had been crushed for so many years, and before which at that time Zerubbabel and his community at Jerusalem must have appeared so insignificant and helpless. The prophetic oracle declares that all mountains of obstacle and threatening shall become “a plain,” that is, disappear, “before Zerubbabel.” The Spirit of Jehovah of hosts is mightier than all the empires and armies of the world.
After the address to the great mountain “the word of Jehovah unto Zerubbabel,” given in verse 6, is resumed, and enlarged with specific application. In verse 6 the word is of the nature of a motto, an eternal truth of God. “Not by might, and not by power, but by my Spirit.” The Spirit was symbolized by the golden oil (verse 12) which flowed from the olive trees to the candlestick, and is thus put in contrast with the “might (____, wealth, resources, and military prowess) and “power” (___, force, strength in battle) on which men of the world are wont to rely. The prince of Judah is to know that Jehovah’s Spirit is better for the mission of Israel in the world than all the resources and strength of armies in battle. He is therefore directly assured that he shall in due time “bring forth the headstone, with shoutings of Grace, grace unto it.” That is, the topstone of the temple shall be laid and the work finished amid the public rejoicings of the people, who will shout and cry, “May the favor of God be on it!” All this is repeated in greater detail in verses 8 and 9. The same hands that laid the foundations of the house of God shall also finish it, and this fact will be a monumental witness that these visions and prophecies of Zechariah were a sure revelation of Jehovah of hosts.
Verse 10 is an additional word of comfort for Zerubbabel. It is in substance the proposition: Small beginnings are not to be despised when the eyes of Jehovah look on them joyfully. “These seven” are the same as the “seven eyes” of chap. 3:9. The passage reads, literally: “And they shall rejoice and see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel, even these seven, eyes of Jehovah; they are running to and fro in all the earth.” That is, the eyes of Jehovah, which run all through the world, sparkle with joy at sight of Zerubbabel’s triumph. What an affecting anthropomorphism!
The temple which Zerubbabel was building, like that of Solomon before it, and like the Mosaic tabernacle, was a material symbol of the Church of the living God, who dwelleth with his people. It was an embodiment of the overwhelming thought that “God will in very deed dwell on the earth” (1st Kings 8:27), and commune with the human soul.
The special explanation of the two olive trees, in verses 11-14, implies that they have an essential significance in the purpose of the vision. Although the candlestick was the central object, the prophet’s attention was attracted to the trees, one on the right and the other on the left side of it. He is represented as asking a “second time” concerning their significance, and specifying two conspicuous “branches, which by means of two golden spouts empty the gold from above them.” The question assumes that these two branches were clearly seen to be a medium of communicating the golden oil to the seven lamps of the candlestick. The answer of the angel, however, is not so clear but that his words have been understood variously: “These are the two anointed ones (Hebrew, sons of oil) who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth.” We understand, in the light of the entire context, that these two anointed ones are Zerubbabel and Joshua. The preceding vision was Jehovah’s word to the high priest Joshua; and this vision is declared in verse 6 to be Jehovah’s word unto Zerubbabel. It was fitting, at the conclusion of these two closely related revelations, that the final word of explanation should include both of these highly honored servants of God, and show that they were divinely appointed to minister and act as mediums of communicating the grace of God to his people.
The Flying Roll, chap. 5:1-4.
Up to this point every vision has had a message of encouragement and promise for Zechariah and his people. But with this revelation of the “flying roll” there comes a change. This fifth chapter contains two messages of warning, the first of which admonishes the new community at Jerusalem that the curses of heaven move swiftly, and will smite a Jewish sinner as quickly and consumingly as any sinner of the Gentiles.
The size of the roll (20x10 cubits) was identical with the measures of the porch of Solomon’s temple (1st Kings 6:3), but need not be supposed to have any special significance in itself. The remarkable size alone would make it an impressive sight. Perhaps the size, as given, may suggest that judgment will begin at the house of Jehovah, and be meted out in full and exact measure. Comp. Ezek. 9:6; 1st Peter 4:17. The roll is explained in verse 3 as a symbol of “the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole land” (that is, the land of Israel). A roll was an appropriate symbol of God’s recorded statutes, and we are reminded of the roll on which Jeremiah wrote all the words of Jehovah against Israel (Jer. 36:2, f.). The king of Judah impiously cut that roll into pieces and cast it into the fire until it was entirely consumed (Jer. 36:23). This roll of Zechariah’s vision is not to be so treated. It is a “flying roll,” and seems to move forth on the wings of the wind. No impious hand is able to cast it into the fire, but Jehovah says in verse 4: “I will cause it to go forth, and it shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of him that sweareth falsely by my name; and it shall abide in the midst of his house, and shall consume it with its timber and its stones.”
It is obvious that we here have two notable sins, theft and perjury, marked out for the particular condemnation and curse of God. The language of verse 3 most naturally conveys the idea that the curse against stealing was written on one side of the roll and that against false swearing on the other side, and by the judgment of God both sins were destined to be quickly cut off or purged out of the land. Others explain the words more generally: Everyone who steals, on the one hand, and everyone who swears, on the other hand, shall according to it be destroyed. The main thought, on either of these readings, is that the two sins specified are singled out for special condemnation, and the two sins represent both tables of the law. He who swears falsely takes the name of God in vain, and so violates the third commandment. He lies to the Holy Spirit, and is guilty of the great sin for which Ananias and Sapphira perished. He who steals violates the eighth commandment of the decalogue. These two sins were conspicuous in Israel after the exile, and Malachi (3:5, 8, 9) furnishes our best comment on this vision:: “I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against…false swearers; and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith Jehovah of hosts…. Will a man rob God? Yet ye rob me, even this whole nation (by withholding tithes and offerings). Ye are cursed with the curse.”
Our prophet sees the curse of God moving swiftly into the dwellings of the guilty thieves and perjurers, and burning even to the timber and the stones. The law of Sinai is a consuming fire, and will assuredly bring the curse of God upon sinners in the land of Judah as well as upon those of heathen countries.
This vision connects closely with that of the flying ephah, which immediately follows, and occupies the remainder of the chapter.
The Ephah, chap. 5:5-11.
The ephah was a well-known Jewish measure, containing what with us would be so nearly equivalent that it might be popularly called a bushel. Such a measure the prophet saw “going forth,” moving away, as if it were a thing of life. In the midst of it sat a woman with “a talent of lead” apparently “lifted up” before her. This talent or “round piece of lead” seems to have been so “lifted up” and conspicuous as at first almost to hide the woman from view. The entire picture is a composite symbol, and its three most noticeable parts are the measure, the circular weight, and the woman.
The interpretation of the vision has been long obscured by a persistent adherence of most exegetes to a reading in the Hebrew text of verse 6, which is unquestionably corrupt. The word translated “resemblance” is the Hebrew word for eye, but it makes no sense in the connection, and no explanation of it as it stands here has been satisfactory. But the Septuagint version, a thousand years older than any Hebrew manuscript now known to exist, reads _____, iniquity. This is a correct translation of the Hebrew word ____, which differs from the word translated eye (____) only by a little prolongation of the letter yod (__). The proper rendering of the last part of verse 6 is, accordingly, “This is their iniquity in all the land.” This correction is confirmed by the parallel explanation given in verse 8, “This is the wickedness” (Hebrew ____). That is, this composite symbol represents the particular form of wickedness and iniquity which now curses the land and should be removed.
The Revised Version has not improved on the common version in its construction of verse 7. I would begin a new and independent statement with verse 7, and conclude it with the first sentence of verse 8, as follows: “And behold, a talent of lead lifted up, and this one woman sitting in the midst of the ephah. And he said, This is the Wickedness.”
That one woman, sitting in the bushel, appears as mistress both of the measure and the weight. These were the two symbols of the iniquity and wickedness then appearing in the land, and corresponding to the crimes of theft and perjury condemned in the previous vision. This woman’s throne was an empty measure, and her sign an uplifted talent of lead. She thus appropriately portrayed the wickedness described in Amos 8:4-6, of those who “swallow up the needy, and cause the poor of the land to fail; saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the Sabbath, that we may set forth wheat? making the ephah small and the shekel great, and dealing falsely with balances of deceit; that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes, and sell the refuse of the wheat.”
This, then, is “their iniquity in all the land.” This is “the wickedness” which called for prophetic condemnation. It was the iniquity of unrighteous traffic that was likely to become the easily besetting sin of the postexilian Jew. This kind of wickedness has its root and essence in covetousness. “The love of money is thee root of all kinds of evil” (1st Tim. 6:10), and covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5). Why a woman rather than a man appears in the symbol is probably because of her peculiar power as a tempter. The image symbolizes the sin rather than the sinner, and the ensnaring images which have ever been most prominent in great systems of idolatry have borne the female form.
The remainder of the chapter (verses 8-11) portrays the removal of the ephah, the woman, and the leaden weight out of the land of Israel far off into the land of Shinar. It is a symbolic picture of retribution to be visited upon the wickedness of unrighteous traffic. The woman was “cast down into the midst of the ephah,” and the round piece of lead, now conceived and spoken of as a heavy weight of stone (Hebrew, stone of lead, verse 8), was “cast upon the mouth thereof.” The word thereof may refer either to the mouth of the ephah or of the woman. Thereupon woman, ephah, and talent of lead were “lifted up between the earth and the heavens,” and carried off into a foreign land. The removal was seen to be accomplished by two other women, who “had wings like the wings of a stork,” and were helped by the force of the wind. The significance of this complex symbolism is profound and far-reaching. It was not a prediction of anything to be literally fulfilled, like the transportation of sinful Jews back to the land of Shinar. It is rather an apocalyptic revelation of truths as sure and permanent as the kingdom of God. We may best indicate some of these truths by a series of observations:
1. Such wickedness as this composite symbol portrays cannot abide in “the holy land” (2:12), nor can it be tolerated in the kingdom of God. There must be, and sooner or later there will be, a removal by judicial separation. Comp. Mal. 3:18.
2. The instruments of this woman’s sin are made the means of her punishment. What a suggestive picture of the narrow covetous soul! Cast into an empty measure, with a leaden stone upon her mouth, cramped up into a little world of selfishness, this goddess of covetousness knows nothing aside from weights and measures! And thus the miser lives inside his own little bushel (or half bushel), and talks of nothing but talents, and stocks, and bonds, and corner lots. Sold to covetousness, he makes his own place and goes into it; his heaven is made his hell.
3. But, further, by an irreversible law, such natures are taken out of the fellowship of the pure and good and removed far away by others of their own kind. The world loves its own, and when selfish interests are at stake the men and women of an adulterous and sinful generation will naturally help those who have helped them. So this one woman was taken up and carried away by those of her own kind—her aiders and abettors in the mammon of unrighteousness. When the angel had cast her into the ephah and put the stone upon her mouth these other women come to her rescue, and remove her to a more congenial place. The stork is mentioned probably for no other reason than for being a well-known bird of passage, with notably large wings, and abounding in the land of Shinar in the valley of the Euphrates. The money-lovers of this world move rapidly and long distances in each other’s selfish interests, as if borne upon the wings of the wind. Comp. Luke 16:8.
4. The “land of Shinar” is to be here understood as the opposite of the land of Israel, which in chap. 2:12, is called “the holy land.” It was that Babylonian plain where Noah’s descendants settled after the flood and builded the city and tower which became the occasion of their being confounded and scattered by the curse of God (Gen. 11:2). It was a land of prevalent idolatry, whither the Jewish people had, according to chap. 2:6, been scattered as by the four winds of heaven. This vision might, therefore, serve as a warning to the returned exiles not to worship the goddess of weights and measures. Where the love of money is so strong as to employ the “balances of deceit,” and make “the ephah small and the shekel great,” there curse and exile are sure to come. He who persists in serving mammon rather than God must leave the holy land and go unto his own more appropriate place. Sordid, self-seeking friends may come to his help, and even build him a house on foreign soil, but that house, like the tower of Babel built by selfish ambition in the plain of Shinar, will prove a curse and confusion.
5. There is an important practical lesson in this vision of the ephah. The process of separating and removing the lovers of this world from real fellowship of the good is ever going on in the development of the kingdom of God. Judas loved silver, and was cut off and went to his own place. Demas forsook the apostle Paul, “having loved this present world.” The first epistle of John speaks of those who went out from the godly “because they were not of them” (2:19), and Jude significantly mentions “the sensual, having not the Spirit,” as those who “separate themselves,” or “make separations.”
So, by the necessary antagonism of opposite natures, the covetous must remove from the holy; for the narrow-minded, self-centered worldling cannot inherit the kingdom of God. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
The Four Chariots, chap. 6:1-8.
This eighth and last vision of the series exhibits a noticeable correspondence with the first vision, in chap. 1:8-11, and also has its own different and peculiar imagery. The first scene was that of riders on horses of different color; here we note that the horses are attached to four chariots, and are seen “moving forth from between two mountains.” The colors of some of the horses are here different from those of the first vision; but the most remarkable difference is that the chariots are seen to be “going forth,” while the angelic horsemen of chap. 1 were “standing” still. The two visions are evidently of similar import, but by no means identical.
The meaning of this last vision may be best set forth by means of comparison and contrast with the first. It is common for apocalyptic writers to impress significant revelations by repetition and variety of symbols. Joseph’s and Pharaoh’s dreams were repeated under different imagery to show that “the thing was established of God, and God would shortly bring it to pass” (Gen. 41:32). Daniel’s vision of the four great beasts was in its import only a repetition of what Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream of the colossal image.
“The two mountains” (verse 1) correspond to the shaded valley mentioned in the first vision (1:8). That retired place among the myrtles seemed a suitable spot for riders in repose, after having “walked to and fro in the earth;” these mountains add impressiveness and grandeur to the picture of war chariots going forth to execute Jehovah’s judgments. The mountains are said to have been “mountains of brass,” and therefore not to be understood as real things, but as visional symbols. The exact meaning is doubtful, and perhaps no special significance should be attached to this part of the picture, other than that suggested above, of adding grandeur to the scene. We may, however, understand that, as the “great mountain” addressed in chap. 4:7, was a symbol of the overshadowing power of worldly empire which awed Zerubbabel, and made him appear little and insignificant, so these two mountains may represent the might and power which are the glory, support, and strength of all great military expeditions. The war chariots, accordingly, proceed from between symbols of massive power and splendor.
As already observed the “going forth” of these chariots contrasts strikingly with the “standing among the myrtles” in chap. 1:8-10. Those angelic riders were in repose after having completed their walking up and down the earth; but these chariots are seen “going forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth.” They appear to symbolize the same hosts of Jehovah as the riders, or, perhaps, another department of one and the same great army. In the first revelation the forces of God seem to have paused, and stood, as if waiting for new orders from their great Captain; but here they, or their fellows, are again in motion, going forth to execute the judgment of “the Lord of all the earth.”
In the first vision only one rider was specifically mentioned (1:8), and behind him were horses of various colors. Here no riders are mentioned, but only horses and chariots. In verse 5 we are told that, altogether, “these are the four winds of heaven which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth.” The word winds is to be understood as a synonym for swift messengers, as in Psalm 104:4, and the symbolic chariots are not essentially different, therefore, from the angelic horsemen of the first vision. These agents of “Jehovah of hosts” execute his judgments on lands and peoples, and in their going forth may take on the forms of war, with the associated horrors of ruthless conquest, bloodshed, famine, and pestilence.
Verses 6-8 assume to designate the particular destination of some of the chariots. The black horses, which went “toward the north country” are said in verse 8 to have wrought the will of God’s Spirit on that land. For the Persian world-power, as a rod of God’s anger, had already at the time of this vision subjugated Babylon, the oppressor of Judah. “The white went forth after them,” or unto the regions behind them,” as the phrase may be translated but the meaning is quite indefinite. “The grisled went forth toward the south country,” but nothing is said as to what they accomplished. The bay ones went out, and sought, and obtained a commission to “go and walk to and for through the earth,” and they did accordingly (verse 7). Altogether, they are to be thought of as a part of Jehovah’s hosts, and, like the four living creatures of Ezekiel’s vision, they were swift as the wings of the wind.
These four chariots of Zechariah’s vision have been supposed to denote the same four world-powers as those symbolized by the four great beasts in the visions of Daniel. But there is no sufficient analogy to warrant the supposition. The chariots moved forth together, and nothing in their movements indicates chronological sequence, which is so prominent a feature of the prophecy of Daniel. No particular kingdoms or powers are designated in the visions of Zechariah. Like the four horns and the four smiths of the second vision (1:18-21), these chariots symbolize any powers by means of which God executes his judgments in the world.
As we now pass from the last vision of the series to the symbolical crowning of Joshua, which occupies the rest of the chapter, we call attention to a notable analogy between these symbols and those of John’s Apocalypse (6:1-8). In John’s vision there went forth, in rapid succession, a white, a red, a black, and a pale horse, each bearing a rider. Those horses and riders seemed to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord, and in like manner these chariots that “go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth” prepare us to appreciate the deep significance of the act which immediately follows (verses 9-15). That symbolico-typical act is a striking prophecy of the Messiah, the King-priest, who builds the true spiritual temple of God, and rules upon his throne.
The revolutions of empire in western Asia, which were the result of God’s hosts marching to and fro through those lands, prepared the way for the coming and kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Crowned Priest, chap. 6:9-15.
The last picture presented to our thought in this series of apocalyptic prophecies is called a “word of Jehovah,” but it is not a vision like the preceding revelations. It is rather a prophetic action, which combines elements of the symbol and the type. It is symbolical so far as the persons and their acts stand forth as emblems of abiding truths; it is typical so far as it points to a fulfillment in the future. Three returned exiles are named, who assist the prophet in making a crown of gold and silver and setting it upon the head of the high priest Joshua, concerning whom we have already had the vision and prophecy of chap. 3. In that former oracle we met the enigmatical statement about “my Servant Branch;” the final picture seems to be an addition to the revelations of that former vision.
The word ____, crowns (verse 11), is in the plural but may be here understood as one composite crown. The same word in the same plural form is employed in Job 31:36, as if it were singular. This coronet made for Joshua may perhaps have had the semblance of a double crown. In Rev. 19:11, “the King of kings and Lord of lords” is represented as having many crowns upon his head.
Joshua, the priest, thus crowned, is a symbolical type of “the man whose name is Branch.” He is destined to “grow up out of his place;” that is, out of his own proper country and family; for he is no other than the shoot, or “branch out of the stock of Jesse,” referred to in Isa. 11:1. In comparing this symbolic act with the vision of chap. 3 we observe the habitual repetitions of apocalyptic prophecy. The Branch of chap. 3:8, is mentioned less definitely, and not only Joshua, but his associates also are called “men of sign,” that is, typical characters. Here Joshua is separately crowned and made preeminently a type of the Messiah.
One most notable statement of the prophecy is that of verse 13, that “he shall be a priest upon his throne.” The coming Branch will be a royal priest, and so not “after the order of Aaron” (comp. Heb. 7:11). Uniting in one and the same person the offices of kingship and priesthood, he will be a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4). It will be a new and blessed thing in Judah when the offices represented by Joshua and Zerubbabel are united in one person, and so harmoniously that “the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” Then will there be no divided counsels, and no humiliation at the sight of king and priest at strife with each other. For the crowned and anointed Branch “shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne.”
Another statement of the most far-reaching significance is that “he shall build the temple of Jehovah,” that mystic but real temple of the Messianic age, of which the temple of Joshua and Zerubbabel was but a symbol. This temple of the future is the structure of which Paul speaks in Eph. 2:20, 21, as “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.” In this “temple of Jehovah,” we are told in verse 15, “they that are far off shall come and build;” not the dispersed of Judah only, but devout souls out of every kingdom, and tongue, and nation. All this is but a repetition, in substance, of what was spoken in chap. 2:11: “Many nations shall join themselves to Jehovah in that day, and shall be my people, and I will dwell in the midst of thee.” The true explanation and fulfillment of these prophecies are found in the ministry of Jesus Christ, who is now King and Priest, and is steadily building the spiritual temple of the ever-living God.
II. ZECHARIAH 12-14.
The last six chapters of the Book of Zechariah are quite generally believed to be of different date and authorship from the first eight chapters. A passage in chap. 11:12, 13, is quoted in Matt. 27:9, as a prophecy of Jeremiah. As long ago as in the seventeenth century Mede and Hammond maintained that these chapters were a lost or misplaced part of the prophecies of Jeremiah. Since that time an increasing number of critics have come to regard chaps. 9-11 as the work of an older prophet, perhaps the Zechariah named in Isa. 8:2; and chaps. 12-14 are attributed to still another writer, living after the days of Josiah (comp. 12:11, with 2nd Kings 23:29; 2nd Chron. 35:24), and probably a contemporary of Jeremiah.
The reasons for denying these last six chapters of Zechariah the same authorship as the first eight are various, such as (1) the remarkable difference of style and sentiment; (2) the absence of visions and symbols here, whereas in chaps. 1-6 they are so abundant and conspicuous; (3) the different formulas in 9:1, and 12:1, as compared with 1:1, 7; 7:1; (4) the different concept of the Messiah in 9:9, and 14:1-11, as compared with 3:8, and 6:12; (5) the heathen powers as mentioned in 9:1-7, and 10:10, are not thus naturally referred to by a postexile prophet; (6) the mention of the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel as in 9:10; 10:6, 7; 11:14, not natural after the exile; (7) the idolatry mentioned in 10:2; 13:2, did not exist in Israel after the exile; (8) the mention of “the house of David” in 12:7, 10, 12; 13:1, more natural before the exile than after, and in like manner (9) the description of prophets in 13:2-6; (10) the allusion to the temple as yet standing in 11:13.
Some of these arguments can be offset by others more or less plausible, and the mention of Greece in 9:13, is thought to favor a postexile date. But, taken altogether, the reasons for denying the unity of authorship are more and weightier than all that can be said in favor of such unity. The time is happily past when such a judgment is seriously believed by intelligent biblical students to interfere in the least with the great religious purpose of the prophecies in question. Whenever and by whomsoever written, these “burdens of the word of Jehovah” contain a portion of the divine revelations of prophecy, which the Church will ever cherish as of superior value. The section in chaps. 9-11 is not sufficiently apocalyptical to detain us in these studies; but chaps. 12-14 contain a revelation touching Jerusalem which must not be overlooked; for an analysis of these chapters discloses a fourfold picture of Jehovah’s preservation, judgment, and glorification of that great city which figures so prominently in the biblical prophecies of the kingdom of God.
ANALYSIS OP ZECHARIAH 12-14.
The broad and general range which this entire oracle takes makes it impossible to confine its reference to any one particular event or period. The idea of Pressel that the prophecy best fits the period of Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah has not a little in its favor, but closer study shows that, like the great prophecy of Isa. 24-27, its lofty ideals transcend the particular circumstances of any one period of Jewish history. No particular siege of Jerusalem, before or after the exile, can be shown to accord so clearly with the full significance of the terms of this prophecy that we can fix upon one date rather than another, and insist on a definite historic fulfillment. When, therefore, Wright urges that between the restoration from Babylonian exile and the coming of Christ Jerusalem was a bowl of reeling to various nations, and “Idumaeans, Philistines, Arabians, Ammonites, Moabites, Tyrians, Syrians, and Greeks made vigorous attempts against the Jewish people and against Jerusalem,” we may readily grant all he says, but add that the same statement will hold in the main when applied to the long period before the exile, as far back as the days of David. And besides these neighboring tribes which were always hostile, and aside from all the troubles with Assyria and Babylon, we recall the invasions of Shishak of Egypt and Zerah the Ethiopian, and Pharaoh-necho, who defeated Josiah, deposed Jehoahaz, and made the whole country tributary for three years to Egypt. In fact, there was no time after Jerusalem became the possession of Israel and Judah that it was not an object of desire to the people and nations round about. So Wright, in finding notable fulfillments of the prophecy in the times of the Maccabees, makes out no more certain a case than does Pressel in referring it to the invasion of Sennacherib. The oracle has reference to all those repeated assaults which the heathen peoples made upon Judah and Jerusalem, and is essentially parallel with the assurance given in Isa. 29:8: “The multitude of all the nations that fight against Mount Zion” shall find their warfare as disappointing as a deceitful dream. For Jehovah has a great purpose of grace to accomplish by that people whose name and interests are identified with Jerusalem. Hence the name “Israel” in the title (12:1) is virtually synonymous with Jerusalem and Judah.
1. The import of the first section (12:1-9) is that all the hostile attempts made upon Jerusalem shall fail, and the peoples that seek her overthrow shall themselves be worsted and come to naught. The two metaphors occurring in verses 2 and 3 are happily adapted to suggest a double disappointment and damage. The cup, or bowl of reeling, implies that the peoples round about would attempt to drink Jerusalem as so much spoil of wine, but would only become shamefully intoxicated thereby, and reel and stagger in most wretched plight. They would also attempt to lift and carry Jerusalem as a heavy stone, but would only find themselves bitterly torn and wounded by the vain effort. Every horse and rider that moves against the city of God shall be so smitten as to be a pitiable and helpless thing (verse 4). The distinction of Jerusalem and Judah in this passage may be regarded as mainly rhetorical, suggesting that all Israel is not confined within the walls of Jerusalem. But the chieftains of Judah recognize, wherever they abide, that the inhabitants of Jerusalem are their strength, and all their national and Messianic hopes are bound up with the destiny of that holy city (verse 5). They shall be a consuming fire among all the heathen peoples, and, having destroyed their enemies, shall dwell triumphantly in Jerusalem. Jerusalem the people shall occupy Jerusalem the city (verse 6), and there shall be no glorying of the city, or even of the royal house, over the rest of the nation (verse 7). Under Jehovah’s defending care the weak and wavering will become a strong man like the great hero David, and the royal house of David will be correspondingly exalted so as to serve “as the angel of Jehovah before them” (verse 8).
Thus this first section (12:1-9) of the oracle concerning Israel assures Judah and Jerusalem that their national city is impregnable against all the attacks of the peoples round about. Their defense is Jehovah, “who stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him” (verse 1). Who then can stand against his power? The significance of the passage is to be seen in the remarkable persistence of Jerusalem as the Jewish capital, in spite of all the sieges, oppressions, and captivities which her people suffered temporarily from the surrounding nations. As a nation the Jewish people were divinely protected, and their famous city of the holy hills was their central home and dwelling until the gospel of a new heavens and a new earth went forth from that place to disciple all nations.
2. The second section (12:10-14) presents a picture of striking contrast to that which has just been given. “The house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” suddenly appear before us as a great house of mourners. This mourning is the result of an outpouring of “the spirit of grace and of supplication,” and is as deep and bitter as that of one who “mourneth for his only son.” The “mourning in Jerusalem” is compared to that of all Judah and Jerusalem for Josiah, who was slain “in the valley of Megiddo” (2nd Chron. 35:22-25). The families of the houses of David, Nathan, Levi, and the Shimeites are mentioned as mourning “apart, and their wives apart.” Why these four families are specified is not, perhaps, an important question. It is one of those incidental features of biblical apocalyptics which have at most a subordinate suggestion. The more important fact is that “all the families that remain” (verse 14) participate in the bitter sorrow.
This great mourning is to be understood of the repentance of the Jewish people preparatory to their acceptance of the saving grace of Christ. Wright’s comment seems fairly to cover the whole case: “The fulfillment of the prophecy took place when thousands, awakened to a sense of the sin they had committed in crucifying the Lord of life and glory, bitterly bewailed their transgression. The penitential sorrow of those days was not confined to Jerusalem, but pervaded the whole land of Judaea. Many thousands of the Jews believed (Acts 21:20); a fact too much lost sight of in the contemplation of the rejection of the Gospel by the majority of the Jewish people. If the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit was an event of such importance as to be predicted by Joel the mourning on account of our Lord’s crucifixion was equally worthy to be noted by Zechariah. Both fulfillments were no doubt in some respects only inchoate; both prophecies will yet have a grander, but not a more literal, fulfillment…. There never has been a period in the history of the Church when some believing Jew has not mourned because of the sin of his people, nor a time when such a penitential mourner has not found comfort in Christ.”
In that far-reaching, spiritual significance, in which the great prophecies transcend all local or particular reference, this “great mourning in Jerusalem” is a picture of the “grace and supplication” which must always and everywhere precede the cleansing and spiritual renewal of hearts that have willfully rejected the truth of God. But the context and scope of this passage most naturally turn the thought to the scattered tribes of Israel and warrant such a hope as Paul expresses in Rom. 11:26, that “all Israel shall be saved.” Just how, when, and where this hope is to be realized is left undetermined.
3. The third section (13:1-6) refers, in appropriate logical and prophetical order, to the divine provision of a fountain of purification from sin and uncleanness for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The particular forms of uncleanness specified are idolatry and false prophecy. These sins were so rare among the Jews after the exile, and so conspicuous before that date, that this passage has naturally been felt to be inconsistent with a postexile origin. A sufficient answer to this may, perhaps, be found in the statement of Ezra 9:1, and Mal. 2:11, which indicate the presence of heathen abominations after the return from Babylon. The passage, however, need not be understood as affirming a prevalence of idolatry or false prophecy at the time of the writer. The two forms of sin specified are rather to be taken as typically representative of the perverse tendency of the Jewish people to forsake Jehovah and trust to their own wisdom (Jer. 2:13; 17:13). The picture given us in 13:1-6, suggests that the cleansing fountain to be opened to the inhabitants of Jerusalem will prove so effectual in washing away the old idolatry, and removing “the unclean spirit” from the land, that no pretense or suspicion of idolatrous practices, or of soothsaying, will be practicable. Fathers and mothers will be so zealous to execute the law of Deut. 13:6-11, and 18:20, that they will even exceed the severity of the law itself and hasten to kill in the most violent way a son so daring as to presume to prophesy. The consequence of such a prevalent feeling will subject all false prophesying to lowest disrepute, and “the prophets shall be ashamed every one of his vision, when he prophesieth; and they shall not wear a hairy mantle to deceive” (verse 4). The hairy mantle, the outward garb of a professional prophet (comp. 2nd Kings 1:8; Matt. 3:4), would be a fatal display at the time of which Zechariah here speaks, for it would expose the one wearing it to the violence of the people, who would not tolerate the appearance of such claims.
The picture is intensified still further (verses 5 and 6) by representing a suspected person as protesting that, so far from being a prophet, he is a tiller of the soil and a bondman from his youth. It is assumed that prophets would not be found among such workmen and slaves. And yet so persistent is the search of suspicion that he is asked about the marks of smiting apparent between his hands or on his arms. His evasive answer that he was smitten in the house of his friends or lovers serves mainly to show that anyone suspected of idolatry or presuming to be a prophet will be put to the most trying examination. The entire description portrays an ideal day of purification, and by thus magnifying the extreme opposition to all that savors of an unclean spirit the writer seeks to make the deeper impression.
Three things have now been set forth by this apocalyptist of Israel’s great future: (1) Jerusalem is to be divinely defended against all the nations that come against her; (2) the spirit of grace and of supplication shall be poured out upon her inhabitants; and (3) all idolatrous practices shall be cut off out of the land. This is altogether a Messianic picture. We are not to look for a literal or special fulfillment of its several parts. The real fulfillment is to be seen in the remarkable survival of Jerusalem against all the nations that sought her ruin, and her preservation as the Jewish national capital until after the Christ appeared to pour upon the true Israel the spirit of penitence and prayer and cleansing from all unrighteousness.
4. The three ideals now presented are supplemented by another and more glorious picture. The final section (chap. 14) is fourfold, and, according to our analysis and exposition, is an idealistic portraiture of the ruin of the old Jerusalem as Israel’s national capital and the building up of the new Jerusalem, the true spiritual city of God.
(1) The first part of this fourfold oracle announces the capture of Jerusalem by the nations, the violence that will attend its fan, and the captivity of the half of it. Its fulfillment is to be seen in that overthrow of the Jewish capital by the Roman forces which marked the end of Jewish nationality and gave free outgrowth to the new Gospel of the kingdom of God in Christ. The prophet foretells no historical details of the capture of the city, but in the most general way declares as a word of the Lord that the usual plunder and violence of such an event will take place, and a part of the inhabitants will go into exile, but “a remnant of the people” will not be thus sent away. This remnant will be seen, in the next stage of the picture, to flee into the valley miraculously opened in the mountains of God.
(2) The second scene in this word-picture (verses 3-11) is a highly imaginative description of the coming and kingdom of Jehovah, so that he shall be, in a new and special sense, “king over all the earth.” A literal interpretation of the passage is utterly out of the question. Jehovah’s “going forth and fighting against the nations” is to be understood of that rule of the Most High in all the affairs of men, by which “he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Dan. 4:35). His cleaving the Mount of Olives so as to open a great valley of escape for his people is as ideal as Micah’s concept of the temple mountain exalted above all the hills (Micah 4:1). As God signally interposed to rescue his chosen people at the beginning of their national history, and both on their exodus from Egypt and their entrance into the land of promise opened for them a pathway through the waters (Exod. 14:22; Josh. 3:14-17), so in the great day of their Messianic salvation will he cleave the mountains for their help (comp. Hab. 3:6). The mention of Azel (verse 5), like that of Geba, and Rimmon, and the tower of Hananel (verse 10), is but a poetic enhancing of the general picture by familiar local names. As Jehovah thus opens the way of escape for the remnant of his people he is conceived by the prophet as “coming with all his holy ones.” We understand this coming as an Old Testament apocalyptic glimpse of what our Lord spoke of in Matt. 16:27, and 25:31. In accordance with this view of verses 3-5 we understand what follows in verses 6-11 as a highly wrought poetic representation of the millennial period of Messiah’s reign. It is “one day which is known unto Jehovah,” and ends with a luminous and blessed “evening time.”
The details of the picture are quite difficult to define. The exact meaning of verse 6 is uncertain, but the chief thought seems to be that the day shall be one of notable darkness. Such is the common prophetic concept of the day of Jehovah (comp. Zeph. 1:15; Amos 5:18; Ezek. 32:7, 8). The next verse declares, however, that it should “not be day and not night.” The entire conception is well adapted to set forth the general character of Messiah’s day, a long period of mingled light and darkness; a long conflict of light and darkness in the moral world. For the millennium, during which the mustard seed grows and the leaven operates (Matt. 13:31-33), is not a cloudless summer day. It opens amid clouds and darkness and with great opposition from the powers of evil; but it is immediately added (in verse 7) that “it shall be one day; it shall be known to Jehovah; not day and not night; but it shall come to pass at the time of evening it shall be light.” It is “one day” in its exceptional character. For, as Jeremiah (30:7) portrays the troublous period of Israel’s restoration, “that day is great, so that there is none like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but out of it he shall be saved.” It is the period of the Lord’s making the kingdoms of the world his own, “for he must reign until he hath put all his enemies under his feet” (1st Cor. 15:25), and at the blessed “time of evening” it shall issue in the creation of new heavens and new earth. For then shall all the nations walk in the light of the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:24), and “God that said, Light shall shine out of darkness,” shall shine in all hearts (comp. Jer. 31:34), “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2nd Cor. 4:6). The eternal God knows this day from its beginning to its consummation in the ages of ages, and to him only is it thus perfectly known (comp. verse 7, and Matt. 24:36).
The picture of living waters proceeding out of Jerusalem (verse 8) is the same apocalyptic ideal as that of Joel 3:18; Ezek. 47:1-12, and Rev. 12:1. This divine provision of heavenly grace is a familiar image of psalmists and prophets (comp. Psalm 36:8; 46:4; Isa. 41:18; 43:20; John 4:14). It is a reminder of the river of the garden of Eden (Gen. 2, 10).”
The marvelous transformation of all the land of Judah from Geba and Rimmon, so as to become “like the Arabah” (verse 10), is also an apocalyptic figure like that of the exaltation of the temple mountain above all the hills in Isa. 2:2, and Micah 4:1. Geba and Rimmon are employed, like Geba and Beer-sheba in 2nd Kings 23:8, to designate the northern and southern limits of the territory of Judah, and the gates and towers of Jerusalem are named in a similar way to denote the entirety of the city from north to south and from east to west. The ideal is that of the whole land leveled into one extended valley or plain, in the midst of which Jerusalem “shall be lifted up and shall abide in her own proper place.”
Verse 11 completes the glorious concept of the new land and the new Jerusalem by the brief but comprehensive statement: “And they shall dwell in her, and there shall be no more curse, and Jerusalem shall dwell securely.” This is, in epitome, the same vision of glory which is written more fully in Isa. 65:17-25, and Rev. 21:1-22:5. It is the lofty prophetic ideal of Messianic triumph and blessing which appears in Isa. 35, and which in all similar apocalyptic views depicts both the purpose and the consummation of the kingdom of God among men.
(3) But our author’s fourfold apocalyptic method leads him now to turn a moment from his vision of Jerusalem dwelling securely, and, in order to enhance the final scene of “Jerusalem the holy” (verses 16-21), he describes “the plague wherewith Jehovah shall smite all the peoples that have warred against Jerusalem.” These are the same as the nations mentioned in verses 2 and 3 of this chapter, and the picture of the final overthrow of all the enemies of Zion is a prophetic parallel of such passages as Joel 3:9-14; Ezek. 38 and 39, and Rev. 20:7-10.
The plague or judgment-stroke (____) which the hostile peoples are to suffer consists of four distinct calamities: (1) Their flesh, eyes, and tongues “consume away;” (2) they fall into the confusion of fighting and destroying one another (comp. Judg. 7:22; 1st Sam. 14:20; 2nd Chron. 20:23); (3) the wealth of all the nations shall be gathered as a spoil for triumphant Jerusalem, and (4) their beasts of burden shall, as in the case of Achan (Josh. 7:24), be included in the penal curse.
This discomfiture of the enemies of Jerusalem may be regarded, in part at least, as a repetition of the picture given in 12:1-9. It may be understood as a later phase of Jehovah’s war against the nations, and also a repetition designed to show that the matter was established of God and sure to come to pass (comp. Gen. 41:32). The repetition also serves the dramatic purpose of enhancing the picture of secure and blessed worship which next follows as the grand finale of this great oracle of Jehovah.
(4) Verses 16-21 declare the sanctity which shall be characteristic of the new Jerusalem. The passage contains four things of note: (1) Every survivor of all the nations which came up against Jerusalem shall be converted to the pure worship of “the King, Jehovah of hosts.” (2) Any failure on the part of “the families of the earth” to conform to this worship shall be visited with a punishment for sin (____). (3) “Holiness unto Jehovah” shall be the motto and characteristic of every vessel of Jehovah’s house, so that there be no distinctions of sacred and secular, holy and profane, or even holy and most holy, for all things will be holy. (4) “There shall be no more a Canaanite in the house of Jehovah of hosts.” The word “Canaanite” here stands as the synonym of a profane person, a heathen, an enemy of God like those put under ban or curse. Everyone who “is left in Zion…shall be called holy” (Isa. 4:3), and nothing shall thenceforth hurt or destroy in all the holy mountain.
All this glowing picture of the triumph and glorification of Jerusalem is a prophetic ideal of the future of the kingdom of God. It was introduced by the coming of the Christ and the overthrow of Judaism and the old Jerusalem. Its one long day is known unto Jehovah (verse 7); for nearly two thousand years it has been neither day nor night, but a conflict and mixture of both. The evening time cometh, and there shall be light. With this ideal agree all the great apocalyptists, and a fair and faithful comparison shows that these chapters of Zechariah are in substantial harmony with both the method and matter of the apocalyptic portions of Isaiah, Joel, and Ezekiel.