The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah/Chapter 03
THE ANGEL OF JEHOVAH AMONG THE MYRTLE TREES
(CHAPTER i. 7-17)
Upon the four and twentieth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Shebat, in the second year of Darius, came the word of Jehovah unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo, the prophet, saying, 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 bottom ; and behind him there were horses, red, sorrel, and white. Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will show thee what these are. And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they whom Jehovah hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth. And they answered the angel of Jehovah that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest. Then the angel of Jehovah answered and said, O Jehovah of hosts, how long wilt Thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which Thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years ? And Jehovah answered the angel that talked with me with good words, even com fortable words. So the angel that talked with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts : I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy. And I am very sore displeased with the nations that are at ease ; for 1 1 was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction. Therefore thus saith Jehovah : I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies ; my house shall be built in it, saith Jehovah of hosts, and a line shall be stretched over Jerusalem. Cry yet again, saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts : My cities shall yet overflow with prosperity ; and Jehovah shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem.
ABOUT three months after the introductory address l which, as we have seen, was mainly a call to repentance, the series of eight visions, followed by the very significant symbolical transaction of the crowning of the high priest Joshua, the son of Josedech, was given to the prophet. In this case the exact day of the month is indicated, most probably because it was a day of special significance and of sacred association to the restored remnant. It was " in the twenty and fourth day of the eleventh month, that is, in the month Shebat, in the second year of Darius" On that very day just five months before, the spirit of Zerubbabel and of Joshua, and " of all the rest of the people," being stirred up by God through the preach ing of Haggai, commenced to work again in the rebuilding of the Temple (Hag. i. 14, 15).
On the same day also just three months later that is, a month after Zechariah s introductory address the same prophet delivered his last two stirring messages, the first ending with the promise, " From this day will I bless you," and the second containing the announcement that God would shake the heavens and the earth, and overthrow the thrones and kingdoms of the nations all with a view to the restoration and exaltation of the Davidic House, which was then represented by Zerubbabel (Hag. ii. 10-23) ; 2 so
1 The exact day of the month is not given to the introductory address, but the omission is probably meant to imply that it was on the first day, or on the Feast of the New Moon, that it was delivered.
2 It was also on the 24th of the month that Daniel, after having previously fasted and mourned for three full weeks, had received the vision of the things noted in the Scripture of truth (Dan. x. 4-21).
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that there is probability in the suggestion that it is on account of its sacred connection with Haggai s ministry, and especially on account of it being the day on which they earnestly took in hand the work of rebuilding the Temple, that it was chosen as a day for further Divine revelations.
This 24th day of the eleventh month was, as already stated, exactly two months after the last promise issued through Haggai to the people that the Lord would hence forth bless His nation, and would glorify it in the future.
" To set forth in symbol and imagery this blessing and glorification, and to exhibit the leading features of the future conformation of the Kingdom of God, was the object of these revelations." l
These visions, which addressed themselves more to the prophet s mental and spiritual sight than to his ears, are called debhar Yehovah " the word of Jehovah " because the pictures seen in the spirit, together with their interpreta tion, had the significance of verbal revelations, and through them the will and purposes of Jehovah were communicated to him.
Divinely communicated visions were one of the " divers manners " in which God spake in times past in the prophets to the fathers, even as we read in Num. xii. 6 : " If there be a prophet among you, I, Jehovah, will make Myself known to him in a vision ; I will speak with him (literally, in him ) in a dream."
The whole series of visions which were granted to the prophet, probably in rapid succession one after the other with only short pauses between, in one night, though distinct and in a sense each one complete in itself " form (as we shall see) a substantially connected picture of the future of Israel linked on to the then existing time, and closing with the prospect of the ultimate completion of the Kingdom of God."
The general plan in all these visions is first to present the symbol, and then, on a question being put, to supply the inteipretation.
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What the Prophet saw
In the dead of night not in a dream, but in an ecstatic condition, in which his mental and spiritual faculties were altogether awake and attuned to God, so that he could fully respond to the operations and promptings of the Spirit, and pictures of divine objects could be reflected on his soul he saw " a man " riding upon a red horse, standing among myrtles " in the bottom," or, more literally, "in" (or "by") the "deep," and behind him, at his command, were horses (most probably with riders upon them), red, speckled (or " sorrel," or " bay "), and white.
Now, before passing from this verse we must consider :
(a) Who is " the man " ? (b} What is represented by the myrtles ? and (c] the significance of the colour of the horses.
I. The "man," as we are told in ver. 11, was the Malakh Yehovah the Angel of Jehovah, who is none other than the " Angel of His face," the Divine " Angel of the Covenant," the second person in the Blessed Trinity, whose early manifestations to the patriarch and prophets, as the " Angel " or Messenger of Jehovah in the form of man, were anticipations of His incarnation and of that incomprehensible humiliation to which He would after wards condescend for our salvation. Some commentators (among them Keil and Dr. C. H. H. Wright J ) do indeed distinguish between the two, but without sufficient reason. The chief ground of their objection to the identification of " the man " in the 8th verse with the Angel of Jehovah in the i ith, is that if the Angel of Jehovah was really identi fied with the rider on the red horse, that rider would have been represented as standing opposite to the other horse man (when giving in their report to him in ver. li), and they would not have been spoken of as standing behind him. 2 To which surely it is sufficient to reply that it is
1 " Zechariah and his Prophecies," being the Bampton Lectures for 1878. 8 Dr. Wright further adds : " Moreover, though the rider on the red horse was the leader and chief of the band of angelic riders, he was also a member of one
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not stated that they were behind him (or, as is more literal), " after him," when giving in their report ; and that there is no necessity to suppose that their captain and leader could not have turned his face toward them while they were speaking. Certainly, if the Angel of Jehovah is not identical with " the man," and there were two prominent commanding figures standing among the myrtles, apart from the cohort of angelic riders, it would have been not " the man " (who in that case would have been an inferior being), but the Angel of Jehovah, who would have attracted the attention of the prophet most, and who would have been mentioned first.
II. It is pretty generally agreed that the myrtles symbolise Israel, and it is not without significance that this particular symbol is chosen. Not the proud cedar, not the lofty, far-spreading oak the symbols of the great world- powers but the lowly, fragrant myrtle, growing for the most part in the shady valley out of the world s gaze, 1 is chosen to represent the covenant people. Yes, it is with
of the subdivisions of which that band was composed, inasmuch as he was mounted upon a steed of a red colour, and not of a colour distinct from the rest " : but he overlooks the fact that in answer to the prophet s question, "What are these, my lord?" "The man," standing among the myrtles, answers, "These are they," etc., not " We are they," showing that though he was the Captain of the Lord s host, he was not to be confounded with them. That he was mounted on a steed of a red colour, and not a colour distinct from all the rest, is sufficiently accounted for by the fact that this colour symbolised what was now the chief characteristic of his attitude to the nations who were oppressing Israel, namely, judgment and vengeance.
1 Hadassah (Myrtle) became a favourite female name. Esther bore it, perhaps on account of the humility and modesty of her demeanour. In Kimchi s comment on this verse will be found the following curious passage : "We have found in the words of our Rabbis, of blessed memory, the following exposition " (it will be found in Talmud Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 93, col. i) : "I saw in the night that the Holy One blessed be He ! sought to turn the whole world into night ; and, behold ! a man riding. This man is no other than the Holy One blessed be He ! for it is said, The Lord is a man of war " (a remarkable testimony this from the Talmud, that He who appeared as the Angel of Jehovah in the form of man was the God of Israel). " Upon a red horse. The Holy One blessed be He ! sought to turn the whole world into blood, but when He looked upon Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, His anger was cooled, for it is said, And he stood among the myrtle trees. The Hadassim can mean nothing else but the righteous, for it is said, He brought up Hadassah, " i.e., Esther.
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the lowly, with those of a contrite and humble spirit, that the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, ever dwells and identifies Himself (Isa. Ivii. 1 5, Ixvi. 2).
The myrtles among which the Angel of Jehovah is seen standing are represented as growing " in the bottom," as the Authorised Version has it ; but the word is metsulah, from tsul the verb tsollal being used of sinking in the water (Ex. xv. 10). The margin in the Revised Version suggests the rendering of " shady place," and various other translations as the basis of different interpretations have been given by Jewish and Christian commentators.
The Jewish Targum and the Talmud, followed by Kimchi and some Christian interpreters, translate " valley," and say that it represents Babylon, where the Jews had been banished on account of their sin ; and some, like Hengstenberg, think that the metsulah was symbolical of the Kingdom of God in its then outwardly depressed condition, but still under the gracious protection of the Angel of Jehovah. But "Tp-fE)?, bammetsuliah, should, we think, be certainly rendered " in " or " by " " the deep." It is at least rightly so rendered in two passages in the Psalms. The first is Ps. Ixxxviii. 6 : " Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in the dark places in the deeps (bimetsoloth}" the next verse showing that it is in the deeps of the sea, since the writer goes on to say : " Thou hast afflicted me with all Thy waves." And the second passage in Ps. cvii. 23, 24, where we read that " they that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters these see the works of Jehovah and His wonders in the deep (bimetsulah}."
It might thus be a suitable figure of the unfortunate condition of Israel over whom the waves of troubles and oppression were rolling in their captivity among the Gentiles ; but where dogmatic certainty is out of the question, we would venture to suggest what to us seems the most likely meaning of this symbol, namely, that " the deep " of " the great sea " represents the great Gentile world-power at that time, with whom commenced " the times of the Gentiles " " the abyss-like power of the kingdom of the
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world," as Baumgarten expresses it. By the side or in the very midst of the great deep, or ocean of humanity, as if threatened to be swallowed up by it, stands the group or thicket of lowly myrtles ; but the Angel of Jehovah the second Person in the Blessed Trinity, who, in His love and in His pity redeemed and bore and carried them of old (Isa. Ixiii. 9) is among them, in fulfilment of His word, " When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and the rivers they shall not overflow thee."
How rich in consolation to the prophet s own heart, and to the people to whom he was to make known what he saw, was this single item in the comforting vision ! In the very midst of that remnant of His oppressed and afflicted people though their eyes may be holden so that they can not see Him afflicted in all their afflictions, is ever Israel s Redeemer, " the Angel of Jehovah," who " encampeth," with an invisible host, round about them that fear Him, to deliver them.
Note, dear reader, governmental power and even national independence had already been taken from Israel. " The times of the Gentiles " had already commenced some seventy years before, with Nebuchadnezzar ; but that did not mean Israel being, as a people, altogether cast off by God. No ; behold Him, not in the midst off the great world-powers, into whose hands the sceptre of governmental rule was parenthetically put, but identified with the com parative handful of people who, for their sins, were under His severe chastisement, and given over for a time into the hands of their enemies.
And the same is true of scattered, storm-tossed Israel in the present day. Sometimes to the eye of man it would almost appear true as Zion in her distress says of herself, " Jehovah hath forsaken me ; my Lord hath forgotten me." And many Christian commentators even start with the presupposition that, because the Jewish people is banished and scattered, therefore it is also cast off; but hear the faithful covenant-keeping God : " For I am with thee, saith Jehovah, to save thee ; for I will make a full end of
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all the nations whither I have scattered thee, but I will not make a full end of thee ; but I will correct thee with judgment, and will by no means hold thee guiltless." " And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them ; for I am Jehovah their God " (Jer. xxx. 1 1 ; Lev. xxvi. 44).
III. Lastly, before passing on from the 8th verse, just a few words on the significance of the colours of the horses. That they symbolise the mission on which these angelic hosts are about to be sent forth, there can, I think, be no doubt, in spite of Dr. Wright s confident statement that " any attempt to assign any grounds for the employment of the special colours is futile."
The red is significant of judgment, blood, vengeance. It is to an angelic rider on a horse of this colour that a great sword is given, in Rev. vi. 4, to take peace from earth, so that men the enemies of God and of His Christ should slay one another ; and in Isa. Ixiii. it is in garments dyed red that the Messiah goes forth in the day of vengeance to tread the nations in His anger, and to trample them in His fury. In our vision it doubtless signifies the same thing namely, the readiness of the Angel of Jehovah to go forth with His angelic cohorts to execute swift judgment on Israel s oppressors.
The exact colour to be understood by the word seruqqim, translated in the A.V. " speckled," or " bay," as in the margin, or " sorrel," as in the R.V., cannot be fixed with certainty. 1 I might fill several pages with the guesses and suggestions and disputations on this word by the learned, but it most probably is meant to describe a mixed colour a combination of the first and last mentioned in the passage and would signify that those mounted on these horses were to be sent forth on a mission of a mixed character namely, of judgment and mercy ; while the white is the symbol of victory/triumph, and glory 1 The word does not occur elsewhere in the Hebrew as an adjective of colour.
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(Rev. vi. 2), which shall be to God s people after their great champion rides forth " conquering and to conquer," and executing vengeance on their enemies.
And the vision of the legions of angels mounted and ready to obey the command of their great Captain was doubtless intended to convey to the prophet the message which he was to impress on the people, that " the chariots of God are twenty thousand, even myriads of angels " ; that with Him was all the requisite power and resources for the deliverance of His people, and the destruction of their foes. It was not because His hand had become shortened and His ear heavy, or that there was a lack either of might or willingness to save on His part, that they had become subject to the power of the Gentiles ; but because their sins had for a time separated them from their God, and their iniquities had caused His protecting and guiding power to be withdrawn from them.
But we proceed to the gth verse.
" TJien said /, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will show tJiee what these be"
Now, here we are introduced for the first time to this malakh haddobher bi the angel that talked with me, or, literally, " in me " and the question to decide is whether this angel who interprets is the same as the Malakh Yehovah the Angel of Jehovah whom the prophet saw standing among the myrtles, as some contend, or is he another being, simply angelic ? The arguments advanced for the identity of the two are these :
(i) In the verse under our examination the prophet addresses this angel as " my lord " (adoni}, and as no other person has been previously mentioned it would appear that it was the Angel of Jehovah he was speaking to. But this is by no means conclusive, for in the prophecies, and especially in the visions, on account of their dramatic character, persons are frequently introduced either as speaking, or as being addressed by others, without having been previously mentioned. Note the striking fact that the
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prophet does not address this angel as Adonai, " my Lord " a Divine title addressed to the Angel of Jehovah, as, for instance, in Gen. xviii. 3 but adoni, " my lord," which may be addressed to man, or any created being.
(2) This angel promises to show or explain to the prophet the meaning of the vision. Now, in the next verse the explanation is given by the Angel of Jehovah, therefore it is urged by some that they are the same. But the word arekka, translated " I will show thee," literally means, " I will make thee see," that is, " give thee an under standing heart and mind to understand the visions and explanations which follow." Indeed, the very designation of this Angel as the One " that talked in me " * seems meant, as Pusey well points out, to convey the thought of an inward speaking, " whereby the words should be borne directly into the soul without the intervention of the ordinary outward organs." An example as to how the interpreting Angel prepared the heart and mind of the prophet to behold and to understand the visions, we have in chap. iv. I, namely, by waking him out of his ordinary condition into a spiritually ecstatic one, and preparing his heart and mind subjectively for the objects presented to him in the visions, and for the explanations which should be given.
(3) In ver. 1 2 the Malakh Yehovah offers a supplication to God on behalf of Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, and in the next verse the answer is given to the interpreting angel ; therefore, it is argued, they must be the same. But to this it may be replied that the answer is addressed to this angel because the Angel of Jehovah asked the question, " How long ? " not for himself, but that the consolation contained in the answer may through the interpreting angel be communicated to the prophet, and through the prophet to the people.
1 In the same manner the Lord says to Moses, in Num. xii. 6-9, " If there is a prophet among you, I, Jehovah, will make Myself known to him in a vision ; I will speak, not * to him, as in the A.V., but in him, in a dream. My servant Moses is not so. In him will I speak mouth to mouth " ; and Hab. ii. I speaks of the same inward teaching : " I will watch to see what He will speak in me."
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On the other hand, here are several reasons which seem to us unanswerable why the interpreting angel must not be confounded with the Angel of Jehovah.
(a) The title Malakh haddobher bi is quite different from the Angel of Jehovah. That it is a title there can be no doubt, for the prophet uses it eleven times (i. 9, 13, 14, 19, ii. 3, iv. i, 4, 5, v. 5, 10, vi. 4) without any variation, and that not always after, or when conversation of any kind takes place, as, for instance, in this 9th verse of chap, i., and in chap. ii. 3. The variation in the Authorised Version, " The angel that communed with me," introduced in chap. i. 14, is unjustifiable.
(b} In chap. ii. 1-4 the prophet sees in vision " a man " engaged in measuring the site of Jerusalem. The inter preting angel who stood beside him leaves him to go forward, perhaps to ask the meaning of the vision, but before reaching his destination he is met by another angel, who comes forward with the command : " Run, speak to this young man " (the prophet). Now, assuming that the interpreter is the same as the Angel of Jehovah, directions would have been given him, and that too in word of command, by an inferior angel a proceeding altogether irreconcilable with the Divine dignity ascribed by the prophet to the Malakh Yehovah.
Moreover, " the man " with the measuring line in his hand, in chap, ii., is, as we shall see, in all probability the same " man " whom the prophet saw in his first vision (comp. i. 8, ii), who, as we saw, was no other than the Angel of Jehovah himself; and as the interpreting angel was standing by the prophet and going forward toward " the man " with the measuring line, it proves that they are two, and not one.
(c] To " the angel that talked with (or in ) me " there is no Divine work ascribed, and no Divine name given at all. 1 Remarkable in this connection is the form of the
1 This precludes the idea suggested by some that the interpreting angel was the Holy Spirit, though the work of this angel resembles one aspect of the mission of the blessed Paraclete.
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prophet s address to him, which, as pointed out above, is not Adonai, my Lord, but adoni, my lord. Nothing higher is ascribed to this angel than the explanation of visions. Sometimes (as in i. 9, ii. 3, 4) not even that, but the pre paration of the prophet s mind to understand the explanation which is given by the Lord Himself.
(d} To the same conclusion also we are led by the analogy of other apocalyptic places in the Old Testament Scriptures. In Dan. viii. 16 and x. 518, for instance, two heavenly beings are seen by the prophet, which stand in exactly the same relation as " the angel that talked with me " stands to " the Angel of Jehovah " in the visions of Zechariah ; and in the last apocalyptic book of the New Testament we have another parallelism in our Lord Jesus Christ: "The Angel of Jehovah" of Old Testament revelation, sending by the hand of an angel, to signify " unto His servant John," for him in his turn to make known to the Seven Churches the Revelation which the Father first gave to Him.
We see, then, that " the angel that talked with me " is not the same as the Divine Angel of Jehovah the Messenger of the Covenant but an attendant angel whose mission it was to be God s expositor to the prophet of the meaning of the visions.
The answer to the prophet s question, " What are these ? " in ver. 9, is given by " the man " that stood among the myrtles, in the I oth verse : " These are they whom Jehovah hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth" How full of consolation for God s people is a statement like this ! Satan, when appearing as the accuser of Job in the presence of God, said that he came " from going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it." And what the aim and object of his restless activity in the earth is, we are told by the Apostle Peter in his earnest warning, " Be sober, be watchful, for your adversary the devil (full of hatred and fiendish cunning, as his names imply, and ever ready with fresh traps and snares for our destruction) as
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a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour." If left to ourselves and his devices for one day, where should we be ? But, blessed be God, " the Angel of Jehovah encampeth (as with a great invisible host) round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them " ; and if there are evil, malignant spirits (ever restlessly walking to and fro in the whole earth on their mischievous intent of hindering, if they cannot frustrate, the gracious purposes of God and the manifestation of His Kingdom on the earth), God also has His messengers who walk to and fro to counteract and frustrate Satan s designs, and to succour and shield, and in many more ways than we know, to be ministering spirits to them who shall be heirs of salvation.
In our vision, however, the swift messengers were in the first instance only sent out to reconnoitre the earth and the state of the nations in their relation to the land and people of Israel ; for, as far as God s governmental dealings with the nations are concerned, all things must be viewed in their relation to that people in whom are bound up the purposes of God for all mankind.
In "answer" probably to the unexpressed inquiry of the Angel of Jehovah, these angelic messengers give in their report : " We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest" x
This description of the Gentile world was intended by contrast to bring more strikingly to light the mournful condition of Israel. All the nations lived in undisturbed
1 The words yoshebheth veshoqateth denote the peaceful and secure con dition of a land and its inhabitants undisturbed by any foe. Pusey points out that the last of the two words is used in the Book of Judges of the rest given to the land under the judges, until its fresh departure from God (Judg. iii. II, 30, v. 31, viii. 28) ; of the undisturbed life of the people of Laish (Judg. xviii. 7, 27) ; in Josh. xi. 23, where we read "the land had rest from war"; and in a number of other places, in later history, all describing a condition of profound peace. Keil and Dr. Wright regard the report of the angelic messengers as having reference to the prophecy of Haggai in chap. ii. 7> 8, 22, 23. " God had then announced that He would shake heaven and earth, the whole world and all nations, with a view to the overthrow of all kingdoms and powers hostile to the welfare of Israel " ; but instead of any such general commotion being apparent, the report which the angelic riders bring is that the whole world is quiet and at rest.
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peace and prosperity. In short, all were at rest except the " tribes of the wandering foot and weary breast " ; who, though a remnant of them had returned, were ground down under the yoke of the Gentiles, while Judea was still, for the most part, lying waste, and Jerusalem was still without walls exposed in a most defenceless manner to all the insults of Israel s enemies. 1 The nations had scattered God s people and had taken possession of their land, and were now in undisturbed enjoyment of it. No one cared for the afflictions of Zion, or troubled himself for the sorrows of Israel.
" Then the Angel of Jehovah answered (i.e., the implied longing wJiich was in his heart} and said, O Jehovah of hosts, how long wilt Thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which Thou hast had indigna tion these threescore and ten years ? " 2
If the very fact of the presence amongst them of the Angel of Jehovah, who in ancient times led His people and brought them into the promised land, and smote all their enemies before them, was intended, as we saw when dealing with the 8th verse, to be in itself a message of comfort to the now oppressed and depressed Israel, how much more full of consolation must have been the fact of His appearing as the Advocate and Intercessor on their behalf?
And He who here cries, " How long, Jehovah of hosts, wilt Thou not have compassion on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah ? " has not changed in His attitude of longing and concern for His own nation. When in the fulness of time He permanently took upon Himself our human form, and became real man, we still read of Him as being moved with compassion on beholding Israel s weary
1 This was the lament of even the restored remnant in the land : "Behold, we are servants this day, and as for the land that Thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it" (Neh. ix. 36).
a "The fact that the Angel of Jehovah addresses an intercessory prayer on behalf of Judah is no more a disproof of his essential unity with Jehovah, than the intercessory prayer of Christ in John xvii. is a disproof of His divinity. "- Keil.
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multitudes, who were as sheep having no shepherd, and as weeping over Jerusalem ; and we may be sure, also, that in those whole nights of prayer and intercession before the Father, the people which are " His own," and the city which was to be the seat of His throne, had a large and central place. Even on the cross He prayed, u Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do " ; and when He rose and ascended to the right hand of God as the great High Priest of His people, Israel is still a subject of His intercessions. " For Zion s sake He doth not hold His peace ; for Jerusalem s sake He doth not rest until her righteousness go forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burneth."
We will not enter into the chronological points which might be raised in connection with the words, " against which Thou hast had indignation these seventy years" and would merely point out in passing that there are different starting-points from which the period roughly spoken of as " the seventy years captivity " in Babylon may be reckoned. But as these visions of Zechariah were granted to the prophet in the 2nd year of Darius Hystaspes, in B.C. 519, the " seventy years " foretold by Jeremiah had already expired, even if we calculate from the latest of the possible starting-points. 1 The Divine Advocate might well there-
1 The definite prophecy of Jeremiah was that the inhabitants of Palestine and neighbouring lands "shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years." This began in the 3rd year of Jehoiakim, which was the ist year of Nebuchadnezzar, i.e., in B.C. 606, or before the ist of Nisan (April) 605. Starting with this definite date the "seventy years" were brought to an end by the decree of Cyrus in the 1st year of his reign, in B.C. 536 (Dan. i. i; Jer. xxiv. i, 9-11; Ezra i. 1-3).
Another starting-point may be made with Jehoiachin s captivity in the 8th year of Nebuchadnezzar, i.e., in B.C. 597 (598), when the city was taken and "all Jerusalem and all the princes and all the mighty men of valour, even 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths," together with the king and his mother and his wives, and the vessels of the Temple and the treasures of the palace were carried to Babylon (2 Kings xxiv. 10-17). From this date the "seventy years" came to an end in B.C. 528.
Then, finally, in the I7th year of Nebuchadnezzar and gth of Zedekiah s reign, in B.C. 589 (588), commenced the final terrible siege of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans which lasted about a year and a half, and ended with the destruction
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fore express " the reverent wonder " that the seventy years being accomplished, the complete restoration was not yet brought to pass, and that though a remnant had returned, " Jerusalem and the cities of Judah " were still practically desolate. This pitiable condition of things moves the Angel of Jehovah to intercession on their behalf.
The answer to the intercession of the Angel of Jeho vah, given in the I4th verse, is addressed to the interpret ing angel that he might make them sink in, so to say, into the prophet s heart and mind, so that he might be able to proclaim them to the people. What these " debharim fob him, debharim nichummim " (literally, " words good ones, words comforting ones ") were, we see in the last four verses: (i) Jehovah is jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy and He is very sore dis pleased (or, literally, " with great anger am I angered ") against the nations that are at ease, " for I was but a little displeased," He says, " and they helped forward the affliction " (or, as it may also be rendered, " they helped for evil "). It is as if while a father was reluctantly punishing his froward but still beloved child with a stick, a stranger were to come and begin to smite him with an iron rod. No wonder that the father s jealousy is stirred, and that a quarrel ensues between him and the inter meddling stranger who dared to mix himself up in the controversy, and increase his child s sufferings. This is ever God s attitude to the oppressors of Israel.
That the nations from the very commencement of " the times of the Gentiles " have been guilty of helping forward the affliction, let the history of Israel, written for the most
of the city and Temple and the carrying away of the remnant of the people into captivity. With this date very probably begins more particularly the seventy years of "Indignation" referred to in this passage in Zechariah. Reckoning from this starting-point, the seventy years came to an end in the and year of Darius Hystaspes, in B.C. 519 the year in which Zechariah saw these visions. A distinction is made by some between " the Captivity " and " the Desolations " ; but the first has special reference to the condition of the people, and the other to the land during the same period. In post-Biblical Jewish literature the whole period of the subjection to Babylon is spoken of as the niSa, "captivity," and loosely, as "the seventy years."
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part in their blood, testify. God scattered Israel (Jer. xxxi. 10); but the nations among whom they have come trampled upon them, and put a yoke of iron upon their necks, and made them " to howl " all the day long (Isa. Hi. 5), because of their oppressions. God gave them over to punishment, but, at the same time, warned the nations, saying, " Make not a full end" (Jer. v. 10); but they have tried, if possible, to destroy them, and to cut off their very remembrance from the earth. God gave over for a time " the dearly beloved of His soul into the hand of her enemies " (Jer. xii. 7) : "I was wroth with My people," He says, addressing Babylon, the first, and also in many Scriptures the great, representative of all Gentile world- powers : " I polluted mine inheritance and gave them into thine hand, and thou didst show them no mercy" (Isa. xlvii. 6).
And this was not merely the attitude of the great nations of antiquity who have now for the most part perished from off the face of the earth Israel s lot in the midst of Christendom has been even worse.
" Where shall we begin," writes an American brother, " in treating the awful truth which is put here in such simple language ? Where shall we find words earnest enough to picture the terrible facts in connection with it, and sound a warning for our times ? Some time ago a person said, 1 The Jews are to-day more stiff-necked and blinder than ever before. Who has made them thus ? Surely judicial blindness and hardness of heart : ears which do not hear, are given by God ; but, alas ! the nations, or so-called Chris tendom, have helped forward their affliction ; they have made matters worse a thousand times : and Satan, who hates Israel, has been the author of all things calculated to increase the affliction of this downtrodden nation. Surely the cause of the increased stiff-neckedness and the increased blindness of the Jewish people is one which is traceable to the nations. Every reader knows something of the history of the Jews, what it has been since they were driven from their land a long, long tale of suffering, tears, and blood.
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Most unjust outrages have been committed against them : torture upon torture, the stake, and worse than that and all in the name of Jesus. It is a shameful history. Many a time Jews, after hearing the Word preached, have stood up and opened in answer this awful book of history with its blood-stained pages, asking the question, Can He be our Redeemer whose followers have treated us thus in His name ? And not a few can tell us of their own sufferings in being banished from foreign lands. Hardly a month passes without some new outrage upon this people. Cruelty, injustice, wickedness, and crime are practised against them, and thus their affliction has been increased."
And all this the Gentile nations have done to Israel out of cruel, selfish motives, and not out of regard for God at all. We are sometimes asked, " But have not the sufferings of Israel all been minutely foretold by Moses and the prophets in advance ? " Yes, certainly they have all been foretold ; but have not the sufferings of Christ been even more minutely foretold and described also? And yet we read that it was " with wicked hands " that they took and crucified Him, and Israel was held responsible for their conduct and dealings in relation to Him. Prophecy, my dear reader, is given to us, not that it may be fulfilled, but because the omniscient God, who sees the end from the beginning, knows that it will be fulfilled, and man is left a free and responsible agent ; and the nations who know not that the great God is overruling all things, even their wicked actions, to the fulfilment of His predetermined counsel, are held accountable for their deeds.
And that the jealousy and hot displeasure of Jehovah against the nations because of their attitude to Israel are to be dreaded, history also testifies. Where are the great nations of antiquity who have lifted up their hands against the Jewish people? And in modern times the ancient word which He spoke to Abraham is still verifying itself in the experience of nations as of individuals : " I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse."
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But not only is the prophet to proclaim the negative comfort that Jehovah is very angry with the nations at ease who help forward the affliction, but He has wonderful purposes of grace concerning His people to announce : " Therefore, thus saith Jehovah, I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies" which, on account of its certainty, is expressed in the present or perfect tense. This, which has been already symbolically set forth to the prophet by the standing of the Angel of Jehovah in the midst of the myrtles, is the very heart and substance of " the good words and comforting words " which are the message of this vision. It was the hiding of His face the withdrawal of Himself that occasioned all these calamities in their night of darkness. So long as Jehovah was with them, neither Assyria nor Babylon, nor all the forces of the universe, could have prevailed against them ; but when His glory was withdrawn, then they became a prey to the Gentiles " the boar out of the wood " came and wasted it ; the " wild beast of the field " came and devoured it. But not for ever has Jehovah forsaken His people and the land which He has chosen as the centre of the unfolding of His purposes of mercy to all mankind. " I will go," He says, " and return to My place till they acknowledge their offence " (or literally, " till they declare themselves guilty "), " and seek My face ; in their affliction " (literally, " in their tribulation ") " they shall seek Me early " (or earnestly), and then He will return unto them with mercies ; and " His going forth is sure as the morning, and He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter rain that watereth the earth" (Hos. v. 15, vi. 1-3).
In its fulness this promise will only be fulfilled when " this same Jesus," whom at His first coming they handed over to the Gentiles to be crucified, and who, after His resurrection, ascended back into heaven into the glory which He had with the Father before the world was, shall " return " in the manner and under the circumstances described by this same prophet in the last three chapters of this prophecy. Then, in the once marred face, and in
THE ANGEL AMONG THE MYRTLE TREES 39
the wounded hands and feet of Him whom they once pierced, shall they fully learn the fulness and manifoldness of God s " mercies."
Two or three particular instances and outward signs of " that all-containing mercy " of His restored presence in their midst, are specially named : (a) " My house shall be built in it, saith Jehovah of hosts" as the visible sign and pledge of the restored fellowship between Him and His people ; (b} And " a line sJiall be stretched forth over Jeru salem" to mark off the space it is to occupy in its restored condition, and the plan upon which it is to be arranged. (c) And not only shall His house be rebuilt and Jerusalem be restored on a grander scale than before, but all the land is to feel the blessed effect of the restored relations between Jehovah and His people. " Cry yet again, saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts : MY cities " yes, they are peculiarly His, as is the case with no other land and no other cities, even as the people which shall inhabit it is peculiarly His, above all other nations of the earth " through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad" or "overflow," the word being used of the " gushing forth of a fountain " in Prov. v. 1 6, i.e., they shall overflow, not only with spiritual prosperity, but with houses filled with citizens, and with abundance and plenty, (d) Finally, both as the ground and climax of all, come the last of the "good words." " And Jehovah shall yet comfort Zion" after her long night of sorrow, and however contrary to all appearance and human probability, " shall yet choose Jerusalem" or, by the above enumerated and many other acts of loving-kindness toward her, demonstrate in the sight of the whole world the fact and the immutability of His original choice of her this last sentence being the first of a threefold inspired repetition by Zechariah 1 of the words of Isa. xiv. I, where we read, " For Jehovah will have compassion on Jacob, and yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land : and the stranger shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob."
1 Here and in ii. 12 and iii. 2.
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Now, there was no doubt a message in this vision and in the plain words of comfort with which it closes to the generation to which the prophet spoke, and in a very partial manner there was a fulfilment of these promises in the then immediate future. Thus God s " House," as applied to the Temple which they were then building, was completed about four years later, in the 6th year of Darius (Ezra vi. 15); and some time later Nehemiah succeeded also in rebuilding the city wall.
There is some truth also in the contention of those commentators who argue that there was a fulfilment of the good and comforting words about Jehovah s returning to Zion with mercies in the first advent of our Saviour. Thus, to quote one of them : " What is the highest good ? what the sweetest of solace in life? what the subject of joys? what the oblivion of past sorrow ? That which the Son of God brought upon earth when He illumined Jerusalem with the brightness of His light and heavenly discipline. For to that end was the city restored, that in it by the ordinance of Christ, for calamity, should abound bliss ; for desolation, fulness ; for sorrow, joy ; for want, affluence of heavenly goods " all which is beautiful and true ; but to deny that in its fulness it will yet find an exhaustive fulfilment in the Jewish people, which for nearly two thousand years has been in much greater bondage than they were during the seventy years in Babylon, is to misapprehend and mis interpret the scope of this as of all the other visions. No ; these words which Zechariah is here commanded to " cry," or proclaim, are a summary and divine reiteration of the permanent and irrevocable " good words " of Jehovah through the former prophets in reference to Israel s future, and will assuredly be fulfilled, as already shown above, when, " after these things," our Lord Jesus shall return and will " build again the tabernacle of David which is fallen ; and will build again the ruins thereof, and will set it up, that the residue of men may seek after the Lord and all the Gentiles upon whom My name is called " (Acts xv. 14-18).
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"For Jehovah shall comfort Zion ; He will comfort all her waste places, and He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of Jehovah ; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody " (Isa. li. 3).