The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah/Chapter 02
The Visions and the Answer to the Deputation from Bethel
INTRODUCTION AND THE PROPHET'S INTRODUCTORY ADDRESS
A CALL TO REPENTANCE (CHAPTER i. 1-6)
In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of Jehovah unto Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo, the prophet, saying, Jehovah was sore displeased with your fathers. Therefore say thou unto them, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts : Return unto Me, saith Jehovah of hosts, and I will return unto you, saith Jehovah of hosts. Be ye not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets cried, saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Return ye now from your evil ways, and from your evil doings : but they did not hear nor hearken unto Me, saith Jehovah. Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live for ever ? But My words and My statutes, which I have commanded My servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers ? and they turned and said, Like as Jehovah of hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways, and according to our doings, so hath He dealt with us.
I AM commencing a somewhat difficult task, in which I am much cast upon God for the help and guidance of His Spirit the source of light and truth for it is my desire and prayer that these " notes," though inadequate and unworthy of so great a theme, may yet prove in His hand not only helpful to a right understanding of this most precious part of Holy Scripture, but be made spiritually profitable, and a blessing, especially to " the poor of the flock" (xi. 1 1), who still believe that prophecy came not in olden times by the will of man, but that " holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
As I am writing here for Christians, and as these expositions are intended for average intelligent English readers, I shall avoid elaborate introductions, and as much as possible also minute critical points. 1
There are some reasons why this portion of Old Testa ment Scripture should especially be precious to Christians. I will mention only two. First because of the clear and striking manner in which it testifies of our Lord Jesus. Luther calls Zechariah Ausbund der Propheten the quin tessence of Old Testament prophecy and this is especially true in reference to Messianic prophecy. Indeed it seems to be the special aim and mission of Zechariah to condense and concentrate in small compass, and in his own peculiar terse style, almost all that has been revealed to the " former
1 An examination of critical points and the theories of " modern " critics against the authenticity of the last chapters will be found in the Introduction to Part II.
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prophets " about the person and mission of Messiah about His Divine and yet truly human character, and of His sufferings and of the glory that should follow.
His betrayal for thirty pieces of silver (chap, xi.) ; the Roman spear with which He was " pierced " by His own nation ; the awakened sword of Jehovah s justice which, in love for a lost world, and for the sin of the guilty, smites the Good Shepherd, " the Man " who is God s own equal ; and the outcome of His sufferings, when He alone shall bear the glory, and " shall sit and rule upon His throne," and when upon His blessed brow, once crowned with thorns, shall at last be put the crown of glory : these, as well as other striking details, are brought before us in this prophecy very vividly and in small compass.
" The Messianic prophecies of Zechariah," says Hengsten- burg, " are only second to those of Isaiah in distinctness. In this, the last prophet but one, the prophetic gift once more unfolded all its glory as a proof that it did not sink from exhaustion of age, but was withdrawn according to the deliberate counsel of the Lord."
Secondly, on account of the light it throws on the events of the last times preceding the great and terrible " Day of the Lord," which is fast approaching.
The presence in Palestine of a representative remnant of the Jewish people in a condition of unbelief; the fiery furnace of suffering into which they are there to be thrown ; their great tribulation and anguish occasioned by the final siege of Jerusalem by the confederated Gentile armies under the headship of him in whom both Jewish and Gentile apostasy is to reach its climax ; how in the very midst of their final sorrow the spirit of grace and sup plication shall be poured upon them, and they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced and mourn ; how this blessed One whom they so long rejected shall suddenly appear as their Deliverer, and His feet stand " in that day " on the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east ; how God shall again say " Ammi " to the nation which during the long centuries of their unbelief were
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" Lo-Ammi " " not My people," and how Israel shall joyously respond, " Jehovah, my God " ; how Israel s Messiah shall speak peace to the nations, and Israel himself enter at last on his priestly mission to the peoples for which he was originally destined, and Jerusalem become the centre of God s fear and worship for the whole earth all these and other solemn events of the time of the end are spoken of in this book with a clearness and distinctness as if they were occurrences of history instead of prophecies of the future.
A very few words will suffice on the personality of the prophet.
Zechariah (Zekharyah, " he whom Jehovah remembers ") is the central figure in the group of the three post-exilic prophets, and his voice was the last but one of that unique and wonderful succession of men who were, indeed, the oracles of God, and through whom " in divers portions and in different ways " He Himself " spake unto the fathers," revealing His eternal counsels to men.
Like Jeremiah and Ezekiel among the " former prophets," Zechariah was of honourable priestly descent ; his grandfather, Iddo, being head of one of the twelve priestly families, or courses, who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel, and with the high priest Joshua ; and at a later period, when Jehoiakim, the son of Joshua, was high priest, Zechariah himself succeeded his grandfather Iddo as head of his priestly course (Neh. xii. 416), from which it is to be inferred that the prophet s own father, Berechiah, died young, and before he was able to succeed his father Iddo in the priesthood. 1 The above facts lead us to infer that when called to the prophetic office Zechariah was still very young. That he was scarcely a full-grown man may be inferred from the fact that in chap. ii. 4 he is addressed as "V?_, naar translated in the Authorised Version " young man." Now naar means " boy," " lad," or " youth." It is, for instance, the word
1 This is probably the reason why, in Ezra v. I and vi. 14, Zechariah is called " Bar-Iddo," "the son of Iddo," and that his father is passed over.
used by Saul as a designation of David in I Sam. xvii. 33, when he said, " Thou art but a youth," and, therefore, not fit to go forth to fight with Goliath, who was " a man of war from his youth." 1
By the same word, also, Jeremiah designates himself when, feeling the awful responsibilities of the prophetic office to which he was being called, especially in an age like his, he tried to excuse himself by exclaiming, " Ah, Lord God ! behold, I cannot speak : for I am a child."
This fact should be an encouragement to those of any age who have a message from and for God. He can speak to and through men at any and every time of life. He presses into His service the hoary-headed, and sanctifies the experience of years ; but He also reveals Himself " by the Word of the Lord " to the child Samuel, and speaks through him His message to the aged high priest : " I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight " : yea, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings He can ordain strength, and perfect His praise, in order to silence His enemies and to confound the worldly-wise and experienced. Let us despise neither age nor youth in God s servants. The question to be asked in reference to those who profess to speak in the Name of God is not about age, experience, education, or worldly position ; but are they really the Lord s messengers, and do they, like Haggai, speak "in the Lord s message"? Zechariah was contemporary and fellow-labourer with Haggai (Ezra v. i) to this extent, that his first message was uttered in the eighth month of the second year of Darius ; while Haggai s ministry which, as far as it is known to us, spread over a period of scarcely four months altogether closed on the 24th day of the ninth month of the same year ; that is, scarcely two months after Zechariah
1 Some, indeed, deny that the term nyj, naar, is used of the prophet ; but we will enter into this question when we come to the exposition of that passage. See p. 60.
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commenced. The time and circumstances were, however, the same.
About eighteen years had elapsed since the first year of Cyrus, when a remnant of those who were carried into captivity both of Judah and of Israel returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest.
The first zeal of the returned exiles was most beautiful. In the seventh month of the very year of their return they already rebuilt the altar of burnt-offering, and thus restored the sacrificial ritual which was suspended during the seventy years of captivity ; and in the second month of the second year they solemnly set themselves to the task of rebuilding the Temple amid circumstances of great national joy not unmixed with tears and sorrow on the part of those who remembered the Temple " in its first glory."
Soon, however, owing to causes into which I cannot enter here, 1 carelessness and indifference took possession of their hearts, and the holy task of building the House which served as the visible symbol of fellowship between Jehovah and His covenant people was neglected. Then was raised up Haggai, the first of the great trio of post-exilic prophets, who, by scathing denunciations, blended with glorious promises of present help, and announcements of a special and " greater glory," which should be manifested in this " latter House," succeeded in rousing the nation zealously to resume the work of building the Temple. It was then, right in the midst of the movement inaugurated by Haggai, that Zechariah was commissioned by God with further messages. The difference between the two prophets seems to be this, that while Haggai s task was chiefly to rouse the people to the outward task of building the Temple, Zechariah took up the prophetic labours just where Haggai had left it, and sought to lead the people to a complete spiritual change, one of the fruits of which would of necessity be increased zeal in the building of God s House, the completion of which he witnessed four years later.
In structure Zechariah s prophecy has this in common
1 See Haggafs Prophecy a Voice to the Present Time,
io VISIONS AND PROPHECIES OF ZECHARIAH
with Haggai s, that they both consist of only four addresses of unequal length.
The four divisions in Zechariah are these :
I. The introductory address, which is a call to repent ance (chap. i. 1-6).
II. A series of eight visions, followed by a striking symbolical transaction, all shown to the prophet in one night, mainly of a consolatory character, and though, having an historical foreground, lead up to the " last days," and to the finale of God s dealings with Israel and the nations (chap. i. 6 to end of chap. vi.).
III. An address in the fourth year of Darius two years after his first message, in answer to a question on the observance of the national fasts put by a deputation from Bethel (chaps, vii. and viii.).
IV. A prophecy delivered at a later period, which, starting from the standpoint of a more immediate future, brings us up to the very climax of things when " the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with Thee " ; and when, as a result, " Jehovah shall be King over all the earth, and there shall be but one Lord, and His name One."
THE PROPHET S INTRODUCTORY ADDRESS
The prophet s first words were startling enough to rivet their attention :
" With great displeasure was Jehovah displeased against your fathers" *
That this was a fact, those to whom the prophet spoke could not deny. They had seen the proofs of it with their own eyes in the desolations of the land, and in the seventy years captivity of the people.
But although Jehovah was angry against them on account of their long-continued apostasies and provocations,
1 Literally, "Jehovah was indeed angry with your fathers," or, " wroth was Jehovah against your fathers with wrath": the verb *]$$, qatsaph, has as its object the noun f]xg, qatseph, to give it greater force. It expresses vehement displeasul e almost to the extent of abhorrence.
A CALL TO REPENTANCE 1 1
His anger was now turned away, and He was ready to comfort them if they would but turn from the evils which had brought those calamities on their fathers, and return to God with all their hearts. To such a turning the prophet, in the Name of God, now most solemnly invites them :
" Return unto Me, saith Jehovah of hosts, and I will " (or that I may ) return unto you, saith Jehovah of hosts " the repetition of the august Name of Jehovah being meant to emphasise the Divine authority and sanction of the call, and the certainty of the blessed result which would follow from obedience to it ; since He who invites them to come back is none other than " Jehovah of hosts," who, while Lord of all things, at whose call all created forces must marshal themselves as if for war, is at the same time the Covenant God of the history of Redemption, whose very Name is as " a strong tower " for the righteous, and who is only " waiting to be gracious," and would therefore most certainly return unto them.
The gracious invitation and assurance is followed by a warning lest, following in the footsteps of their fathers disobedience, they would incur the like displeasure of God and experience the like punishment:
" Be not ye like to your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried, saying, Turn, we beseech you, from your evil ways, and from your evil doings : but they heard not, neither did they hearken unto Me, saith Jehovah?
We have here incidentally given us a kind of inspired re sume of one great part of the work " of the former prophets " and its result. The mission of the prophets was comprehensive and many-sided ; they spoke to all times, making known to the children of men the counsels of the Eternal. They spoke from the mouth of the Omniscient God, foretelling things to come ; but to the current generations in which they lived they were chiefly preachers of righteous ness, and their constant cry was, " Repent."
They saw Israel and in this respect Israel is but a type of man wandering ever further from God, and they
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cried, " Turn ye, turn ye " ; for why will ye wander from the source of life and blessedness, and die, O House of Israel ? That repentance was the keynote in the preaching of all " the former prophets " will be seen at a glance if I quote here only a few of their chief utterances.
Taking the books as they are now arranged in the Old Testament Canon, without strict regard to chronology and beginning with Isaiah his chief message to the generation in which he lived, after denouncing their sins, may be summed up in the proclamation found in the 55th chapter :
" Seek ye Jehovah wJiile He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts ; and let him return unto Jehovah, and He will have mercy upon him ; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon"
Jeremiah was again and again sent with the gracious message :
" Return, tJiou backsliding Israel, saith Jehovah ; and I will not cause My face to fall upon you in anger : for I am the gracious One, saitli Jelwvah, and I will not retain anger for ever. Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against JeJiovaJi thy God" (Jer. Hi. 12, 13).
Ezekiel s touching appeal to the people in the Name of God, who solemnly bids the prophet proclaim that He has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, I have already quoted. It was repeated again and again in the course of his ministry. Hark, for instance, to his cry in the 1 8th chapter :
" Repent, and be turned from your transgressions whereby ye have transgressed, and iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions ; and make you (or get you ) a new heart and a new spirit : for why will ye. die, O house of Israel ? "
And these were but the continuance and repetition of the still earlier voice of Hosea, Joel, Amos, and Zephaniah, who cried :
" O Israel, return unto Jehovah thy God ; for thou hast
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fallen by thine iniquity " (Hos. xiv. l). " Turn ye, even to Me, with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning : and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto Jehovah your God ; for He is gracious and -merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of the evil" (Joel ii. 12, 13). " Seek ye Jehovah, and ye shall live" (Amos v. 46). "Before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of Jehovah come upon you, before the day of the Lord s anger come upon you, . . . seek righteousness, seek meekness : it may be ye s}iall be hid in the day of the Lord s anger" (Zeph. ii. 2, 3).
But, alas ! to all these cries Israel lent but a deaf ear. The result of all the ministry of the former prophets, as far as the nation was concerned, is summed up in the words : " But they did not hear nor hearken unto Me, saith Jehovah"
On the last page of pre-exilic history are written the following solemn words : " Moreover, all the chiefs of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after the abominations of the nations ; and polluted the house of the Lord which He had hallowed in Jerusalem. And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, rising up betimes and sending ; because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwelling place : but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy " (2 Chron. xxxvi. 14-16). They then went to Babylon, which inaugurated the period called in the New Testament " The times of the Gentiles," which are still running ; and when at the end of the seventy years a remnant was in the grace and faithfulness of God brought back, the tone and substance of the old message did not change. The cry was taken up by Haggai and Zechariah ; and with the proclamation, " Return unto Me, and I will return unto you, saith Jehovah" (Mai. iii. 7), the voice of Old Testament prophecy finally dies away.
T4 VISIONS AND PROPHECIES OF ZECHARIAH
For the sake of showing that the preaching of repent ance is still the distinguishing mark of God s true messengers, let us note how this old cry is carried over, also, into the pages of New Testament history. After Malachi a pause of four long centuries intervened, during which there was no voice nor vision nor answer of God ; but when the long silence was broken, the first words that fell on Israel s ear from the mouth of the Baptist were, " Repent ; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" \ and when at last the Greatest and last of the prophets, who was Himself to inaugurate " the kingdom of heaven " on earth, stood in their midst, His first public utterance, too, was the same old familiar cry, " Repent ! " (Matt. iv. 1 7). Oh, that Israel had known the day of his visitation, and hearkened at last to this gracious invitation at least when uttered by the lips of the Son of God Himself! But they knew not, nor did they understand. The proud Pharisees and scribes, like so many of their fathers before, did not think they needed to repent. Did they not cry, " We are the Temple of the Lord " ? Were there not the many voices of the false prophets who cried, " Peace, peace " ? " Have we not Abraham to our father ? " " We are God s favoured nation ; no evil will befall us." And so again they showed themselves the successors of those who killed the prophets, and stoned them that were sent unto them and cried as they did of all the prophets before Him " Away with this disturber of our peace, He is no friend of our nation ; it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not."
Christ died and rose again, according to the Scriptures ; but before His ascension He entrusted His disciples with a message for the world, and in that last commission (Luke xxiv. 4649) " repentance " still finds a prominent place. And the keynote in the Apostolic preaching whether in Jerusalem or in Athens, whether to Jew or to Greek was, " God commandeth all men everywhere to repent." " Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the time of refreshing
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shall come from the presence of the Lord " (Acts iii. 1 9, xvii. 30).
And we may pause and ask, Is there less need for this kind of preaching now than there was in Jeremiah s or in Paul s time? Is man s attitude and tendency more God- ward and heavenward now than it was then ? Is man all right, or is he radically wrong ? Does man s natural course lead to life, or does the end of it lead to death ? Upon the answer to these questions depends the answer as to who are the true prophets and genuine friends of man ; whether those who cry, " Turn ye, turn ye ; for why will ye die ? " or those who speak of " the world s progress," and tell corrupt, sinful men that they are themselves potentially Christs, who need only develop " the good that is in them," and who still cry, " Peace, peace," although there is no peace. We may be forgiven for digressing somewhat beyond the limits of the passage before us ; but we believe that this question of repentance touches the very heart of man s relationship to God. It shows us, as we have seen, man s condition as apostate from God, with his face turned away from the fountain of light and life. It tells us that man s great need is to forsake not only his outward ways, but also his thoughts, and to return to the Lord ; and it reveals to us the grace and love of God, who has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but yearns for his return, " because He delighteth in mercy," and has, at the cost of the sacrifice of His own Son, devised a means for reconciliation, " that His banished be not expelled from Him " (2 Sam. xiv. 14).
Let us return, therefore, unto the Lord, and He, accord ing to His promise, will " return unto us " we with our sins, He with His grace and forgiveness ; we with our poverty and need, He with His exceeding " riches " and infinite fulness ; we with our wretchedness and fears, He with His " everlasting consolation and good hope " yea, with His peace, which passeth all understanding, and with His joy, which is unspeakable and full of glory. And if we find no power of ourselves to come to Him, let us pray, as Israel will by and by : " Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord,
1 6 VISIONS AND PROPHECIES OF ZECHARIAH
and we shall be turned" " Cause Thy face to shine, and we shall be saved" (Lam. v. 2 I ; Ps. Ixxx. 3).
We now come to the last two verses of Zechariah s preparatory address, which may be summarised as a warn ing against disobedience, illustrated and enforced by the sad experiences of their fathers. " Your fathers, where are they ? " " They did not hear nor hearken " ; they dis believed and disobeyed My word ; but what was the con sequence ? What good did they gain ? what success did they experience in resisting Me ? " Where are they ? " Did they not for that very reason spend their days in wretchedness, and pine away in captivity ? " And the propJiets, do they live for ever ? "
Probably we have here the record of a dialogue between the prophet, speaking in the Name of God, and the people ; at least so some of the leading Jewish commentators understand it namely, that when the prophet pointed them to their fathers, saying, " Where are they ? " the people impudently answered, "And the prophets, do they live for ever? "- have they, too, not shared in the sorrows of the nation and passed away like our fathers ? x And then the prophet replies, " Yes ; the prophets, though God s mouth piece, were but men, and are gone, but My words and My statutes, which I commanded My servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers, so that they had to return and say, that as Jehovah of hosts hath thought (or " determined ") to
1 Kimchi, in his commentary on Zeckariah, says, " Our Rabbis, of blessed memory, have interpreted the words, The prophets, where are they ? as the answer of the people. They say that the congregation of Israel gave a contro versial reply to the prophet. He said to them : Return in true repentance, for your fathers sinned ; and where are they ? The people answered him : And the prophets who did not sin, where are they ? But they afterwards repented and made confession to him." The place in the Talmud to which he refers is Bab. Sanhedrin, 105.
Among Christian interpreters, we are glad to see Keil adopting this view. In Lowe s Hebrew Student s Commentary mi Zechariah, there is the following note :
"Another interpretation is that Zechariah s words are equivalent to this : The light of prophecy is dying out ; while ye have the light, walk as children of the light. But to us it appears that to put the words, Do (or "did ") the prophets live for ever? into the mouth of Zechariah, is to destroy utterly his argument."
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do unto us, according to our ways, and according to our doings, even so hath He dealt with us ? "
Oh, that men would learn to distinguish between the frailty and weakness of the best of God s messengers and the eternal character and unfailing veracity of His message ! The prophets are no more, but the words which those holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost are still with us, verifying themselves, and in spite of man s unbelief accomplishing, whether in judgment or in mercy, that whereunto they were sent.
Oh, that men would take warning from the past history of Israel, and note the faithfulness of God in carrying out His threatenings as well as His promises !
Oh, that you would be wise and " give glory to Jehovah your God before He cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and while ye look for light He turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness" (Jer. xiii. 15-17).