MENU

Where the world comes to study the Bible

Zechariah 1

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS*

NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
A Call to Repentance Introduction: A Call to Repentance The Lord Calls His People to Return to Him A Summons to Conversion
1:1-6 1:1-6 1:1-6 1:1-6a
      1:6b
Visions of the Horses The Word of the Lord to Zechariah in a Series of Eight "Visions"
(1:7-6:15)
The Prophet's Vision of the Horses First Vision: The Horsemen
1:7-11 The First Vision: Divine Horsemen Patrolling the Earth 1:7-9a 1:7-17
  1:8-17    
    1:9b-10  
The Lord Will Comfort Zion   1:11  
1:12-17   1:12  
    1:13-16  
    1:17  
Vision of the Horns The Second Vision: Four Horns and Four Smiths The Vision of the Horns  
1:18-21 1:18-21 1:18-19a  
    1:19b  
    1:20-21a  
    1:21b (NJB Renumbers)
Second Vision: The Horns and the Smiths
      2:1-4

* Although they are not inspired, paragraph divisions are the key to understanding and following the original author's intent. Each modern translation has divided and summarized the paragraphs. Every paragraph has one central topic, truth, or thought. Each version encapsulates that topic in its own distinct way. As you read the text, ask yourself which translation fits your understanding of the subject and verse divisions.
 In every chapter we must read the Bible first and try to identify its subjects (paragraphs), then compare our understanding with the modern versions. Only when we understand the original author's intent by following his logic and presentation can we truly understand the Bible. Only the original author is inspired—readers have no right to change or modify the message. Bible readers do have the responsibility of applying the inspired truth to their day and their lives.
  Note that all technical terms and abbreviations are explained fully in the following documents: Brief Definitions of Greek Grammatical StructureTextual Criticism, and Glossary.

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. The first six verses are an introduction to the whole book. They emphasize the requirement of a covenant relationship (faith and obedience) and specify the need for ongoing repentance.

God's word is sure and permanent (cf. Isa. 45:23, 55:11; Matt. 5:17-20). How each generation responds to Him (personal) and it (doctrinal and lifestyle) determines their blessing or cursing (cf. Deut. 27-29).

B. Beginning in 1:7 and continuing through 6:15 is a series of eight visions and their interpretations (angelic mediators).

There are apocalyptic elements in these visions.

1. angels

2. colors

3. animals

4. numbers

 

C. There seems to be a similar opening (1:7-17) and closing (6:1-5).

1. four colored horses patrol the earth at YHWH's behest

2. four chariots of colored horses patrol the earth at YHWH's behest

The apocalyptic themes of God's knowledge and sovereignty control and interpret history. All eight visions must be taken together as one emphasis and related to chapters 9-14. See D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic, pp. 47-50.

D. Much modern scholarship is recognizing a particular type of two-way stair step parallelism called chiasmus in both 1:7-6:15 and 9-14 (cf. Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale OT Commentary, pp. 74-81). If this is true, then the fourth and fifth visions take an emphasized structural position.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:1:1-6
 1In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the prophet, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo saying, 2"The Lord was very angry with your fathers. 3Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, "Return to Me," declares the Lord of hosts, "that I may return to you," says the Lord of hosts. 4Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets proclaimed, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, "Return now from your evil ways and from your evil deeds."' But they did not listen or give heed to Me," declares the Lord. 5Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6But did not My words and My statutes, which I commanded My servants the prophets, overtake your fathers? Then they repented and said, ‘As the Lord of hosts purposed to do to us in accordance with our ways and our deeds, so He has dealt with us.'"

1:1 "In the eighth month of the second year" This refers to October or November of either 520 or 519 b.c., depending on whether one uses the Syrian or Babylonian calendar. The Jews had been back in Palestine for eighteen years at this point. The temple rebuilding, which had begun under Sheshbazzar (Ezra 5:16), had not been finished under Zerubbabel.

▣ "Darius" This refers to Darius I, son of Hystapes, also called "the great." He reigned from 522 to 486 b.c. over the Persian Empire; therefore, his second year would be 520 b.c. He was the successor of Cyrus II's son, Cambyses II (530-522 b.c.), who committed suicide because of Egyptian military victories. Darius was not part of the royal line, but he married a royal daughter in order to legitimize his reign. He searched the Persian records and when he discovered the Edict of Cyrus (cf. Ezra 5-6) he overthrew the legal case of the Samaritans and even helped provide money for the rebuilding of the temple.

"the word of the Lord came" God's mercy and patience is demonstrated by the fact that as He sent His word in the past, and it was originally rejected (cf. v. 6), He now sends it again. God wants a personal, ethical, obedient relationship with people of faith!

This introductory prophetic phrase is characteristic of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, but not in this exact form in Isaiah.

These visions (1:7-6:15) were not exclusively from the imagination of Zechariah, but were from YHWH. The genre questions have always been:

1. Did YHWH communicate His message in apocalyptic visions? or

2. Did Zechariah structure YHWH's message in a series of visions?

These same questions relate to poetry, fables, parables, and textual design. Is the Bible dictated by the Spirit or does the human author participate? The variety of Scriptural genres and structures implies a creative element on the part of the human author. Joyce G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, p. 74, says, "One of the important contributions of modern scholarship to our understanding of the Bible is the realization that its truth is expressed in literary forms and structures as well as in words." R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 950, says, "probably the only legitimate question that can be raised in this regard, however, is whether the visions were real experiences or merely a literary form, as in later apocalyptic writings." These forms and structures were contemporary with the inspired authors, not radically new or different (see Hinckley G. Mitchell, ICC, p. 117).

This does not affect the complete inspiration of the Bible, but does reveal how God cooperates with His human creatures. Our "in His image" is an awesome, mysterious, and pervasive concept!

"Zechariah" The name means "YHWH remembers." This is a very common Hebrew name, which is used twenty-nine times in the OT. Its meaning seems especially significant in light of the returning exiles' view that God had reestablished His covenant with them. He was a contemporary of Haggai. When one compares the dates (i.e. Hag. 1:1 with Zech. 1:1) Zechariah began preaching about two months later than Haggai.

"the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo saying" When one compares Ezra 5:1; 6:14 with Zech. 1:1,7, he sees that the father of Zechariah is omitted. There have been several theories about the omission: (1) Hebrew genealogies often skip generations; (2) the early church fathers said that this refers, not to physical lineage, but to spiritual lineage (i.e. Jerome), Iddo being a tribal family group of Levites who returned to Jerusalem (cf. Neh. 12:4,16); (3) others say that for some reason Berechiah did not live up to his priestly lineage; (4) Zechariah's father had died and he was raised by his grandfather, Iddo; or (5) it refers to the faithful witness mentioned in Isa. 8:2 whose father was Je-berechiah ("YHWH" blesses). It is obvious that Zechariah was a prophet and a priest (cf. Jer. 1:1; Ezek. 1:1).

1:2 "The Lord was very angry with your fathers" The word "anger" (BDB 893) appears twice in v. 2 and has an intensified connotation, "was very angry" (cf. vv. 14-15). This is an anthropomorphic phrase putting human emotions on God, and yet, human vocabulary is the only means we have to understand and communicate thoughts about God. For the term "Lord" see Special Topic at Dan. 4:2.

The expression "very angry" (BDB 893) is used several times in Zechariah (cf. 1:2 [twice]; 1:15 [twice]; 7:12; and 8:14). YHWH was angry with His people because of their sin (cf. 7:12; 8:14) and also at the nations He used to judge His people (cf. 1:15).

The phrase "your fathers" refers primarily to the previous history of Jewish rebellion (cf. v. 4) and, by implication, to Haggai and Zechariah's generation, who had been neglectful in rebuilding the temple.

This opening paragraph has several levels of direct quotes. It is hard to identify the antecedents of the pronouns. The term "them" of v. 3 refers to the current generation of Jews living in Jerusalem and the surrounding area (cf. vv. 3-6).

1:3 "says the Lord of hosts" This is a direct quote from God (cf. Isa. 31:6; Mal 3:7). This phrase is found in the Hebrew text three times in v. 3, once in v. 4, and again in v. 6 (also note vv. 12 and 16). The title "Lord of hosts" occurs at least fifty times in Zechariah.

"'Return'" This is the Hebrew word shub (BDB 996, KB 1427) in a Qal IMPERATIVE FORM (as in v. 4). Verses 3 and 6 are the key to this opening paragraph. It signified a turning from idols and returning to YHWH (cf. Isa. 31:6-7). It is used extensively by Jeremiah for spiritual conversion (e.g. 15:19; 18:8,11). God always takes the initiative in human repentance (cf. Jer. 31:18; Lam. 5:21; Prov. 8:3,7,19; John 6:44,65; Acts 5:31; 8:22; II Tim. 2:25). However, God has structured His Covenant in such a way that humans must respond in repentance and faith to Him (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38,41; 3:16,19; 20:21). Because these were already covenant people it is uncertain whether this text is referring to initial personal salvation (cf. Isa. 55:6-7) or what we would call today a rededication experience (cf. vv. 4,6; Rev. 2:5,16,21,22; 3:3,19,20). In the OT descendants of Abraham were part of the people of God, but it is obvious from the OT itself that all of them did not have a personal faith relationship with God that impacted their daily lives. Religion, ritual, and self-righteous legalism are always barriers and blinders.

It is theologically significant that Zechariah calls for a repentant response on the part of the people of God. The visions of 1:8-6:15 then proclaim God's sovereign acts on behalf of His people. Notice the balance―God's sovereign initiative demands a human response.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Predestination (Calvinism) Versus Human Free Will (Arminianism)

SPECIAL TOPIC: REPENTANCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

▣ "to Me" Notice the personal element (cf. Isa. 44:22, very similar to John's Gospel). It is God who we need more than any of His gifts. Covenant faith is personal! Truth is personal (cf. John 8:32; 14:6).

I have enjoyed and benefitted from Joyce D. Baldwin's Tyndale Commentaries on both Daniel and the post-exilic prophets (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). Here is an example of her insight.

"The new generation was free to make a new start (Ezek. 18:14ff); the Lord would return to them, despite the covenant-breaking of past generations if they would return to Him" Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (p. 87).

The invitation of Ezekiel 18 (both individual and corporate) is still open! This chapter is a new OT metaphor for the "seventh day of rest" (cf. Ps. 95; Heb. 3-4).

▣ "that I may return to you" Repentance restores fellowship with God (cf. Mal. 3:7; James 4:8; the negative form in II Chr. 15:2). The term shub (BDB 996, KB 1427) is used twice in v. 3; once in v. 4; and once in v. 6.

1:4 "the former prophets" This phrase becomes a technical term in later rabbinical writings for the "historical books" of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Here it refers to the pre-exilic writing prophets of the eighth and seventh centuries (cf. 7:7; II Chr. 24:19; 36:15).

"Return now from your evil ways and from your evil deeds" This is an allusion from previous prophets (e.g. Isa. 1:16-19; Jer. 18:11; 25:5; 35:15; Ezek. 33:11). God's people rejected both God and His covenant requirements and went after other gods (i.e. fertility worship). This was the spiritual cause of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles. These post-exilic inhabitants of Jerusalem must be different!

The phrases "your evil ways" and "your evil deeds" function as a hendiadys. The term "ways" is used metaphorically for lifestyle. Biblical faith is (1) personal, (2) creedal, and (3) lifestyle. This lifestyle obedience is expressed early in Gen. 18:19 (cf. Jdgs. 2:22; Ps. 119:1). The related metaphor is "walk" (e.g. Prov. 6:20-22; Jer. 7:24; 10:9; Eph. 14:1,17; 5:2,15).

"But they did not listen or give heed to Me" The two negated VERBS "listen"(BDB 1033, KB 1570) and "give heed" (BDB 904, KB 1151) reflect Deut. 6:4, which denotes hearing and obeying (cf. Deut. 5:32-33; 6:1-3). It is not enough to know God's words, they must be lived out (cf. James 1:22-25)!

The phrase "give heed" is from the Hebrew root which means "pay close attention to" (cf. Jer. 6:17; 11:7,8). This phrase is an allusion to Jer. 7:24,26; 17:23; 19:15; 29:19.

1:5 "Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever" This verse emphasizes the frailty of humanity (both evil and good) versus the eternality of God (cf. Mal. 3:6) and His word (cf. Isa. 40:8; 45:23; 55:11; 59:21; Matt. 5:17-18; 24:35).

1:6 "My words and My statutes" God's revealed truths and covenant requirements are called by many terms, as Ps. 19:7-9 clearly shows.

1. "the law of the Lord," v. 7

2. "the testimony of the Lord," v. 7

3. "the precepts of the Lord," v. 8

4. "the commandment of the Lord," v. 8

5. "the fear of the Lord," v. 9

6. "the judgments of the Lord," v. 9

 

1:6 "My servants the prophets" Initially the Patriarchs are designated "servants" (e.g. Gen. 18:5). However, it came to refer to the family of Abraham collectively (i.e. Jacob, Israel, cf. Isa. 41:8,9; 42:1,19; 43:10; 44:1,2); then specifically to David the king of united Israel (e.g. II Sam. 7:5,8,19,20; Isa. 37:35). The phrase is used often in II Kings (cf. 9:7; 17:13,23; 21:10; 24:2) for God's speakers, the prophets. The phrase is also used extensively of the prophets in Jeremiah (cf. 7:25; 25:4; 26:5; 29:19; 35:15). It is obvious from the number of allusions in this context that Zechariah knew Jeremiah's writings well.

"overtake your fathers" This is a hunting metaphor (BDB 673, KB 727, Hiphil PERFECT, cf. Exod. 14:9; 15:9; Deut. 19:6) and it seems to refer to "the cursings" of Deut. 28 if the covenant was violated.

"‘to do to us in accordance with our ways and our deeds'" This may be an allusion to Lam. 2:17. Each generation must respond to the covenant. The danger of religion is that it can become a family tradition instead of a personal faith. "The fathers" repented, but only after God's judgment!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:1:7-11
 7On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the prophet, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo, as follows: 8I saw at night, and behold, a man was riding on a red horse, and he was standing among the myrtle trees which were in the ravine, with red, sorrel and white horses behind him. 9Then I said, "My lord, what are these?" And the angel who was speaking with me said to me, "I will show you what these are." 10And the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered and said, "These are those whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth." 11So they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees and said, "We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth is peaceful and quiet."

1:7 "On the twenty-fourth day" It is uncertain why the twenty-fourth day was so significant, but it is referred to extensively by the prophet Haggai (cf. 1:15; 2:10,18,20). This exact date seems to be Feb. 15, 519 b.c.

"the eleventh month" This would be February-March, three months from the date in 1:1. Zechariah 1:7 begins a series of eight visions which continue through 6:15.

"Shebat" The name of this month is a post-exilic Babylonian loan word (BDB 987) which means "to kill," "to strike," or "to destroy." BDB suggests it refers to the rainy season which included floods and storms. It occurs only here in the OT. Other Babylonian dates (cf. 7:1) appear in Ezra-Nehemiah, which is the same historical period (i.e. early post-exilic or the Persian period).

For a good discussion of the calendars in use in the ancient Near East, see Jack Finegan, Light From the Ancient Past: the Archeological Background of the Hebrew-Christian Religion, vol. 2, pp. 552-598 or Roland deVaux, Ancient Israel, vol. 1, pp. 178-194.

1:8 "I saw" In Zechariah the Hebrew word "see" (BDB 906, KB 1157) is often used to introduce a new vision.

1. "I saw," 1:8

2. "I will show you," 1:9

3. "I lifted my eyes and looked," 1:18

4. "the Lord showed me," 1:20

5. "I lifted up my eyes and looked," 2:1

6. "he showed me," 3:1

7. "what do you see?" "I see," 4:2

8. "I lifted up my eyes and looked," 5:1

9. "lift up your eyes and see," 5:5

10. "I lifted up my eyes and looked," 5:9

11. "I lifted up my eyes again and looked," 6:1

 

▣ "at night" Does this imply revelation by dreams or that a vision came in the night-time? God often used dreams to reveal Himself, especially in Genesis (cf. 20:3,6; 31:10-11,24; 37:5-20; 40-41). Dreaming even becomes a way of identifying a true prophet (cf. Deut. 13:1,3,5; Jer. 23:25-32).

The terms "dream" and "vision" can be synonymous (cf. Num. 12:6; Isa. 29:7; Dan. 1:12). However, they are distinct in I Sam. 28:6,15.

The most famous OT book which uses dreams and visions as a way of communicating truth is Daniel. Daniel's relation to Nebuchadnezzar is very similar to Joseph's relation to Pharaoh. Dreams predominate in Dan. 1-7, while visions predominate in Dan. 8-11. Both are used by God to communicate truth.

Daniel and Zechariah share the apocalyptic element of dreams and angelic mediation.

"a man" This is the Hebrew term ish (BDB 35), which usually denotes a male from a female (ishshah). The etymology of this word is uncertain because it is not found in the cognate languages.

In Zechariah it is used several times in the eight visions (cf. 1:8,10,21; 2:1; 4:1; 6:12), where it refers to:

1. angels (compare 1:8,10 with v. 11)

2. the prophet himself (cf. 4:1)

3. the Messiah (i.e. Branch, cf. 6:12)

This same person is called "the angel of the Lord" in vv. 11 and 12. For a good discussion of the different names for humans in the OT see Robert B. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, pp. 45-54. Ish is discussed on pp. 48-50.

"a red horse" The term "red" is the Hebrew term adam (BDB 10), which means reddish brown. Colored horses are also mentioned again in the eighth vision of Zechariah in 6:1-8. They become the source of the Apostle John's Four Horses of the Apocalypse (cf. Rev. 6). Notice that there are two red horses in 1:8 and no black horses.

NASB"and he was standing among the myrtle trees which were in the ravine"
NKJV"and it stood among the myrtle trees in the hollow"
NRSV"He was standing among the myrtle trees in a valley"
TEV"he had stopped among some myrtle trees in a valley"
NJB"standing among the deep-rooted myrtles"

From v. 11 it is possible that this is the angel of the Lord appearing as a man. He was also riding a red horse and standing among myrtle trees. There is debate as to how many angels appear in this vision. I think the man/angel on the red horse among the myrtle trees is different from the interpreting angel of vv. 9,13,14.

Myrtle (BDB 213) seems to be a metaphor for joy and happiness. This was Esther's Jewish name, Hadassa. However, it may simply refer to a type of shrub growing near Jerusalem.

"ravine" This Hebrew term (BDB 847) is possibly used as a metaphor for deep distress (BDB 846, same consonants, cf. Exod. 15:5; Zech. 10:11). Because of the apocalyptic nature of these visions it is possible that v. 8 speaks of God's people in peace (myrtle) and yet stress (ravine).

BDB 847 calls the term "ravine" a rare, dubious word. It is possible that it refers to a physical location near Jerusalem. If so, it is a way of showing God's care and presence with His people. Verse 11 seems to support this interpretation. These angels "patrolled the earth," but returned and stopped outside the holy city of Jerusalem, the place where YHWH's name dwells.

"red, sorrel and white horses" There seem to be four horses. Four is the number of the world (cf. 6:5-6; Rev. 7:1). This then would be a symbol of God's universal knowledge and presence.

There is an obvious parallel with 6:1-8 (also note Rev. 6:1-8). It has been noted that the names for the colors are PLURAL. Some commentators assume there were several of each color, not just three horses (or with the Septuagint, four adding a black one to match 6:1-8).

1:9 "My lord" This is not the covenant name for God, but simply the term adoni (BDB 10) for "my owner," "master," or "lord" (cf. 4:4,5,13). Zechariah is addressing his angel guide (cf. 1:19; 2:3; 4:1,4,5; 5:5,10; 6:4; also note a similar angel in Ezek. 8:2-3; 40:3-4; Dan. 7:16; 8:16-17; 9:22; 10:18-21). See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY at dan. 4:2.

"I will show you" This angel does not tell Zechariah, but allows him to hear the angel on the red horse among the myrtles (cf. vv. 11 and 12).

1:10 "the man" From v. 11 we believe that this was the angel of the Lord. We learn from v. 10 that these men on horses were angels who were patrolling the known world (cf. 6:5-7, i.e. the ancient Near East).

1:11 "they answered the angel of the Lord" The phrase "the angel of the Lord" is often used in the OT for a powerful angel (cf. Gen. 24:7,40; Exod. 32:34; Num. 22:22; Jdgs. 5:23; II Sam. 24:16; I Chr. 21:15-16; Zech. 1:12-13). However, in other contexts it seems to refer to God Himself (cf. Gen. 16:7-13; 18:2,22; 22:11-15; 31:11,13; 48:15-16; Exod. 3:2-6; 13:21; 14:9; 20:20-23; Jdgs. 2:1; 6:14,22; 13:9-18,22; Zech. 3:1-2). Many have asserted that these passages refer to the pre-Incarnate Jesus. It is obvious from v. 12 that the angel of the Lord is separate from the Lord of hosts. In v. 12 the angel prays an intercessory prayer to the Lord of hosts on behalf of the Jewish people (also note v. 10).

It seems to me that "the angel of the Lord" in v. 11 must be the same one speaking in v. 12.

"all the earth is peaceful and quiet" This may refer to the decreed peace of the Persian Empire. We know from history that Dairus I Hystapes had to put down nineteen rebellions to his reign. Apparently these were over and peace had been restored by force.

The TEV interprets "peaceful"(BDB 442, KB 444, QAL ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) and "quiet" (BDB 1053, KB 1641, QAL ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) as "helpless and subdued." It is translating the Hebrew words in a unique way based on context. The interpretive question is what does the patrolling angel's answer mean: (1) all is quiet and well or (2) all is not well, but quiet? Is the Persian Empire a liberating force or an occupying force? It seems to me that it is a liberating force, so different from Assyria and Babylon. It had allowed the Jews to return home and even offered materials to rebuild their temple. In time it would allow the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem even amidst the objections of the surrounding nations (cf. Nehemiah).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:1:12-17
 12Then the angel of the Lord said, "O Lord of hosts, how long will You have no compassion for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which You have been indignant these seventy years?" 13The Lord answered the angel who was speaking with me with gracious words, comforting words. 14So the angel who was speaking with me said to me, "Proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, "I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and Zion. 15But I am very angry with the nations who are at ease; for while I was only a little angry, they furthered the disaster." 16Therefore thus says the Lord, "I will return to Jerusalem with compassion; My house will be built in it," declares the Lord of hosts, "and a measuring line will be stretched over Jerusalem."' 17Again, proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, "My cities will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem."'"

1:12 "how long will You have no compassion for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah" The angel (cf. vv. 10,11) is addressing a question to YHWH about the extent of the exile. The angel is concerned about the lack of progress.

The Hebrew term "compassion" or "mercy" (BDB 933) is used in Hosea 1:6,19, and 23 as a word play between God's judgment (i.e. divorce) of His people and His promised renewal of the covenant.

The very fact that a prominent angel asked this question shows that the decree of Cyrus II in 538 b.c. to allow the Jews (along with all other captives) to return home was not the promised fulfillment which Jeremiah predicted. Zechariah addressed a discouraged people. The return had not been easy or blessed up to this point (519 b.c.). 

Also note that an angel acting as an intermediary between YHWH and His people is surprising. It becomes a regular component of apocalyptic literature which magnifies the role of angels in human affairs.

▣ "these seventy years" This seems to be an allusion to Jer. 25:11,12 and 29:10 (cf. II Chr. 36:21; Dan. 9:2), giving the specific time of the exile. There has been much discussion about this seventy year period. Is it meant to be a symbol of a large indefinite period of time, like the Hebrew term "forty" or is it a specific seventy year period? The two suggestions are (1) the period from 605 b.c. (Battle of Carchemish) to 539 (fall of Babylon to Cyrus) or (2) the seventy year period of time which can be found between the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 b.c. to the rebuilding of the second temple in 516 b.c., which is the focus of the prophecy of both Haggai and Zechariah. This same temporal symbol is also found in Isa. 23:15,17, where it seems to refer to one life span (which may be the intended thrust of the prophecy, much like "this generation" of the forty year Exodus judgment).

1:13 "The Lord answered the angel who was speaking with me" Notice YHWH does not answer the angel of the Lord among the myrtle trees who asked the question in v.12, but He addresses the interpreting angel (cf. v. 9). The content of YHWH's gracious and comforting words is found in vv. 14-17.

▣ "gracious words, comforting words" The first ADJECTIVE (BDB 373) means "good," "agreeable," or "pleasant." The second (BDB 637) means "compassion" (cf. Isa. 57:18; Hos. 11:8). God will forgive and restore His covenant people because of His great love, not their merit.

These ADJECTIVES answer the angel's question of "no compassion" in v.12! YHWH has great compassion for His people and His restoration of the Abrahamic promise of the promised land (cf. Gen. 12:1-3).

1:14 Verses 14-17 are the essence of the gracious words of God mentioned in v. 13.

▣ "I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and Zion" This is a COGNATE ACCUSATIVE, like v. 2. "Exceedingly jealous" (BDB 888, KB 1109) is from a term for dying a cloth an intense color. It came to be used for facial expressions showing deep emotions. Jealousy is a love word which speaks of the depth of God's compassion for the chosen people (cf. Exod. 20:5; Hos. 11:8; 13:14). For a good theological discussion of divine jealousy see Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale OT Commentaries, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, pp. 101-103.

The terms "Zion" and "Jerusalem" are often synonyms in the OT (e.g. 1:17; 2:7,10; 8:2,3; 9:9).

In light of the difficult historical setting (i.e. poor crops, poor relations with neighbors, small group that returned) this is a surprising revelation. The returning minority was not sure that God was with them or for them. It is so easy to judge spiritual issues based on physical circumstances.

1:15 This is a very significant verse. Although God used godless nations to judge His people (cf. Isa. 10:5; 47:6; Jer. 25:9; 51:20), apparently these nations went far beyond what God wanted and they would be punished for their excesses. In the Ancient Near Eastmilitary victory was a spiritual as well as military issue. YHWH explains why He allowed the pagan empires of Assyria and Babylon to oppress His people. He also explained that they went beyond His desires and purposes. The current conditions do not reflect God's intended desires nor do they truly reflect His feelings for a restored Judah.

This verse is the reason TEV translates v. 11c in a negative sense. The ADJECTIVE translated "ease" (BDB 983) has the added connotation of "careless, wanton, arrogant" ease (cf. Ps. 123:4; Isa. 32:9,11; Amos 6:1). This second vision (cf. 1:18-21) expands this theme of God's judgment on the very nations He used to punish His people.

1:16

NASB,
NIV (LXX)"I will return to Jerusalem"
NKJV"I am returning to Jerusalem"
NRSV, NJB"I have returned to Jerusalem"
TEV"I have come back to Jerusalem"

The VERB (BDB 996, KB 1427) is a Qal PERFECT. The time element must be discerned from the context. Be careful of personal bias or systematic theology setting a particular time frame (only context can denote the original author's intent). The Jewish Publication Society of America's translation supposes a current return. This is a play on the Hebrew word shub, used in 1:3,4,6. As they returned to God, He would return to them. This is also significant because in Ezek. 10:18,19; 11:23, God's presence left Jerusalem (the temple) and went east to be with the exiles. God assures the returning Jews that His glory will return to a rebuilt temple and that the covenant would be reestablished (i.e. 516 b.c.).

"with compassion" This is also a prophetic word play going back to Hosea 1:5-9; 2:1-7 versus 2:14-20,21-23 (i.e. Lo-Ruhamah = No Compassion; Lo-Ammi = Not My People).

▣ "and a measuring line will be stretched over Jerusalem" Usually this term meant destruction (cf. II Kgs. 21:13; Isa. 34:11; Lam. 2:8). In this context it must stand for "restoration" (BDB 876)(cf. Ezek. 41 and Rev. 21:15-17). The use of a building metaphor references the emphasis on rebuilding the second temple.

1:17 "Again, proclaim" This parallels v. 14 (both Qal IMPERATIVES). The interpreting angel gives YHWH's words (cf. v. 13) in two parts: (1) restoration and (2) prosperity.

The word "again" (BDB 728) is repeated four times in this verse. That which was nullified or abrogated will be renewed and continued. The covenant is renewed!

▣ "My cities will again overflow with prosperity" In this context YHWH is asserting that the destroyed cities of Judah will be rebuilt and prosper. This is an unusual use of this VERB (BDB 807 II). It usually is used in contexts of destruction and defeat (cf. 13:7). This may be a deliberate ambiguity implying that the "overflow" (cf. Prov. 15:6) or "expansion" of Judah's cities will be by military means.

This is a good place to remind us that context, not lexicons, determines meaning. It is always surprising when an exact opposite usage occurs, but this just shows the dynamic nature of human speech and the power of idiomatic language.

"again choose Jerusalem" This VERB (BDB 103, KB 119, Qal PERFECT) is regularly used to denote a divine choice (cf. 2:12; 3:2). God has chosen to restore His chosen ones. This is official covenant renewal language.

Here Jerusalem and Zion are metaphors, not for a city, but for a people. YHWH originally chose Jerusalem as the place for His name to dwell (cf. Deut. 12:5,11,21; 14:23-24; 16:2,6,11; 26:2; Neh. 1:9). This would be the location of the central sacrificial shrine.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:1:18-21
 18Then I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, there were four horns. 19So I said to the angel who was speaking with me, "What are these?" And he answered me, "These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem." 20Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen. 21I said, "What are these coming to do?" And he said, "These are the horns which have scattered Judah so that no man lifts up his head; but these craftsmen have come to terrify them, to throw down the horns of the nations who have lifted up their horns against the land of Judah in order to scatter it."

1:18 "Then I lifted up my eyes and looked" See note at 1:8. In the Masoretic Hebrew text v. 18 is 2:1 (cf. NJB).

▣ "four horns" Horns are symbolic of (1) power or (2) nations (cf. Jer. 48:25; Ezek. 48:25; Amos 6:13; and Dan. 8:3). The number four seems to be the number of the world (i.e. four horses of 1:8 and the four winds of 2:10). Some say that this refers to the kingdoms of Daniel, chapters 2 and 7 (Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome), but I believe that, in context, understanding world kingdoms that affect the Promised Land would be more appropriate.

1:19 "the angel who was speaking with me" Angelic mediation (cf. v. 9) is one characteristic of apocalyptic literature, as is the use of symbolic numbers (cf. v. 18) and colors (cf. v. 8).

▣ "These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem" These horns (BDB 901) represent the world powers that God used to judge His people (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon), but now God will judge them because of their excessively harsh treatment (cf. v. 15; Ps. 75:4-5).

This list of "Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem" is surprising in that Israel is usually listed first when speaking about the divided monarchy. If these refer to the two Jewish kingdoms formed after 922 b.c., why list the capital of Judah without the capital of Israel (i.e. Samaria)? It may be best to understand all three as collective terms for the people of God (only Judah is mentioned in v. 21).

1:20

NASB, NKJV"craftsmen"
NRSV"blacksmiths"
TEV"workers with hammers"
NJB"smiths"

God's creative power is seen in His use of four craftsmen (BDB 360) versus the destructive power of human government seen in the metaphor of four animal horns. It is uncertain if the craftsmen reflect artisans or workmen. Exactly what they do to the horns is unspecified, but they do change them and negate their power.

1:21 "so that no man lifts up his head" This is an idiom of defeat and rejection. Notice the repeat of the term "lift up" (BDB 669, KB 724). God's agents will reverse the roles, the scattering horns will be defeated and the defeated Jews' countenance will be lifted up!

There may be a word play on the phrase "throw down" (BDB 392), which can mean in the Hiphil, "give thanks" or in the Piel "cast down." The horns who wanted to cast down the people of God are now the focus of the praise and thanksgiving of the people to God for the nations' defeat.

"to scatter" The terms "scatter" (BDB 279, KB 280, Piel PERFECT of 1:19, 21[twice]) and "gather" were often used in the Ancient Near East as metaphors for the well being of nations based on the activity of their gods. In the Bible it is YHWH who allowed His people to be scattered, but He will protect them and gather them again.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is Zechariah's father omitted in the list of priests in v. 1, but present in Ezra 5:1; 6:14; Neh. 12:4,16?

2. Define the Hebrew word shub or "return."

3. Who is the man riding on a red horse in v. 8?

4. What is the significance of the colored horses in v. 8?

5. Why is the angel upset in v. 12?

6. What is the significance of v. 15 in our understanding of the exile?

7. How does v. 16 fit the historical setting of Haggai and Zechariah?

8. Explain the significance of "horns" in the OT.

9. Who do the horns represent?