In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying,
Verse 1. - § 1. Title of the book, and author. The eighth month. This was called Bul before the Captivity (1 Kings 6:38), and afterwards Marchesvan (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 1:3 3); it answered to parts of October and November, and was a time of rain. Haggai had first prophesied two months earlier. The second year of Darius. Being now under foreign rule, the prophet uses the regnal years of the king to whom his people were subject (see note on Haggai 1:1). Son of Berechiah (see Introduction, § II.). The prophet. This appellation belongs to "Zechariah," as the LXX. and Vulgate take it. A comma should be inserted after "Iddo" here and in ver. 7. Saying. The visions virtually spoke to him, communicated to him the Lord's will; but first he has to deliver the following warning.
The LORD hath been sore displeased with your fathers.
Verses 2-6. - § 2. The prophet admonishes the people not to follow their forefathers evil example, but to turn to the Lord with all their heart. Verse 2. - Hath been sore displeased; literally, displeased with displeasure, which the versions render, ὠργίσθη ὀργὴν μεγάλην: iratus iracundia (el. ver. 15). Not only events connected with their earlier history proved that God had been incensed with their forefathers, but the ruin of their kingdom, and the late Captivity, and the desolation around them, were evidence of the same sad truth.
Therefore say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the LORD of hosts.
Verse 3. - Say thou unto them. The prophet shows why he has reminded them of their forefathers' sins and punishment. Saith the Lord of hosts. The expression recurs three times in this verse; it denotes the almightiness and infinite resources of God (see note A in the appendix to Archdeacon Perowne's edition of this prophet). Its constant repetition, as in Haggai, gives a certain heaviness to the prophet's style. Turn (return) ye unto me. He calls the people to repentance, partly, doubtless, with a view to their taking an active part in rebuilding the temple, thus carrying on the exhortations of Haggai, but also with reference to their general indevotion and laxity which Ezra afterwards had to reprove (see Ezra 9:2). Saith the Lord of hosts; literally, (it is) the utterance of Jehovah of hosts. This is a more threatening form than the mere "saith" in the other two places in this verse. And I will turn (return) unto you (Malachi 3:7). God promises his favour on their repentance and better conduct; as Haggai had been commissioned to proclaim a return of fruitful seasons as soon as the people obeyed his word and attended diligently to the work before them (Haggai 2:19). They were called now to attend to the pure worship of the Lord, as the sole condition of prosperity (comp. 2 Chronicles 30:6; James 4:8). It has been well observed that when it is said, "Turn ye unto me," etc., we are reminded of our free will; and when we cry, "Turn us, good Lord, and we shall be turned," we acknowledge the need of God's preventing grace.
Be ye not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets have cried, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye now from your evil ways, and from your evil doings: but they did not hear, nor hearken unto me, saith the LORD.
Verse 4. - The former prophets have cried. Omit "have." The prophets referred to are those before the Captivity, both those whoso writings are extant, as Hosea, Joel, Amos, etc., and those whose names are mentioned in the historical books, e.g. Nathan, Gad, Shemaiah, Azariah, Hanaui, Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah (Pusey). (See similar complaints in 2 Kings 17:13; 2 Chronicles 36:15, etc.; Jeremiah 25:3-8, which last passage seems to have been in Zechariah's mind.)
Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live for ever?
Verse 5. - To compel them to listen to the warning, he asks them, Your fathers, where are they! What became of those who paid no heed to the admonitions of the prophets? Have they not suffered dire calamities and perished miserably? And the prophets, do they live forever? They can teach and threaten no longer. It is true that the seers who warned your fathers are no more, but did not their words come true (see ver. 6)? Jerome referred these words to the false prophets, resting, doubtless, on Jeremiah 37:19. But it is more natural to refer them to the "former prophets" mentioned above and in the following verse.
But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your fathers? and they returned and said, Like as the LORD of hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways, and according to our doings, so hath he dealt with us.
Verse 6 - My words. The words that God put into the mouths of the prophets (Jeremiah 39:16; Lamentations 2:17). Statutes, usually applied to the Law, which the prophets had to announce and enforce; but it may mean "decrees" which God appointed (Zephaniah 2:2). The LXX. inserts "receive ye" to govern these nouns. I commanded. The LXX. adds, ἐν πνεύματὶ μου, "by my inspiration." Did they not take hold of your fathers? Did they not overtake, etc.? Did not their threatened chastisements, however long delayed, reach your fathers in the end? And they returned; turned, as vers. 3, 4. They turned so far as to acknowledge that the threats had been fully accomplished (see Daniel 9:5; Ezra 9:6, etc.). Thought to do; παρατέτακται (Septuagint), "designed, purposed to do" (comp. Lamentations 2:17).
Upon the four and twentieth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Sebat, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying,
Verses 7-17. - § 3. The first vision: the horsemen in the myrtle grove. Verse 7. - In a series of visions it is now shown what is the nature of the restored theocracy, and what shall befall it. Thus were the people comforted by bearing God's purposes of mercy and the great future that awaited Israel. In this first vision it is revealed to Zechariah that the Gentile nations should be overthrown, and that whatever might be the present condition of the Jewish people, God's purpose of mercy toward them was unshaken and would be fulfilled. The four and twentieth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Sebat. This month (called here by its Chaldean name) answered to parts of January and February. It was three months since Zechariah had been called to the prophetical office, and five since the building of the temple had been resumed at Haggai's remonstrance. Meantime Haggai had concluded his mission by uttering his final prophecies two months ago, and now Zechariah carries on the revelation. A comparison of the months in the cuneiform inscriptions with the Hebrew will be found in Schrader, 'Keilinschriften,' 379, and in Dr. Wright's note on this verse. The word of the Lord. Thee visions with their explanations are in effect the oracle (see note on ver. 1).
I saw by 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 were there red horses, speckled, and white.
Verse 8. - I saw by night; in the night; i.e. the night of the twenty-fourth day (ver. 7). The visions were seen in this one night at short intervals. There is nothing to make one suppose that they came in dreams (Isaiah 29:7). The prophet is awake, but whether he sees these scenes with his bodily eyes, or was rapt in ecstasy, cannot be decided. A man riding upon a red horse. This is the Angel of Jehovah, mentioned again in ver. 10 and in ver. 11, in both of which places the description, "that stood among the myrtle trees," serves to identify him. He is different from the interpreting angel, and is the leader of the company of horsemen that follow him. Keil and Wright consider that the rider on the red horse cannot be identified with the Angel of Jehovah, because otherwise he would have been represented as standing opposite to the other horsemen to receive the information which they brought him, and they would not have been spoken of as "behind" hint. But the expression in ver. 8 may mean merely that the prophet sets his eyes first on the leader and then on the attendants. Or in ver. 10 he is the spokesman who begins the account of the riders' doings, which these themselves complete in ver. 11. Thus there are in the scene only
(1) the prophet;
(2) the angel rider and his attendants; and
(3) the interpreting angel.
The red colour of the horse is supposed to represent war and bloodshed, as in Revelation 6:4; but this seems unsuitable in this piece, where nothing of the kind is intimated, but rather the contrary (ver. 11). It is, indeed, impossible to affix any satisfactory explanation to the colour. If, as we may well suppose, this personage is the Angel of the covenant, who was the leader and guide of the Israelites (comp. Joshua 5:13), his standing in the valley among the myrtles may represent the depressed and humbled condition of the chosen people, which yet was well pleasing unto God, like the sweet scent of odoriferous myrtles is agreeable to men. The myrtle trees. The myrtle is indigenous in the hilly regions of Northern Palestine, and is still seen in the glens near Jerusalem, though no longer on the Mount of Olives, where the returned captives found it when celebrating their first Feast of Tabernacles (Nehemiah 8:15). In the bottom; the valley. Myrtles love such places. "Amantes littora myrtos" (Virgil, 'Georg.,' 4:124). The term would suit the valley of the Kidron. Others render, "the shady place," or "the tabernacle," but not so appropriately. LXX., ἀναμέσον τῶν [Alex., 860] ὀρέων τῶν κατασκίων, "between the shady mountains." The Greek translators seem to have borrowed their reading from ch. 6, where the chariots issue from between two mountains of brass. Behind him were them red horses; i.e. horses mounted by riders (ver. 11). Speckled. It is not clear what colour is meant by this word. The Revised Version gives sorrel; Wright, "bay or chestnut;" LXX., ψαροί καὶ ποιλίλοι: "dapple-grey and spotted;" Vulgate, varii. The Septuagint Version is probably a double rendering. The word occurs elsewhere only in Isaiah 16:8, where it is applied to the tendrils of the vitae. What is intended by the different colours of the horses is a matter of great dispute, and cannot be known. There is some reason for considering that they represent the world powers at this particular period - the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Greek; three of those concerning which Daniel prophesied; the fourth, the Roman, not having yet come in view. The notion of tutelary angels, presiding over countries, was familiar to the Hebrew mind (see Daniel 10:12, 13, 20, 21). These horsemen are evidently not post couriers, but warriors on military service.
Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will shew thee what these be.
Verse 9. - O my lord. The prophet speaks to the angel of the Lord, who answers briefly, and is succeeded by the interpreting angel. What are these? Not "who," but "what;" i.e. what do they signify? (comp. Amos 7:8). That talked with me; literally, as the LXX. and Vulgate, that spake in me. So vers. 13, 14, and in the following visions. Hence some regard the expression as intimating a communication berne inwardly to the soul without the aid of external organs, or that the angel overpowered and influenced the prophet as the evil spirit possessed the demoniac. But the same term is used, as Dr. Wright points out, in the sense of to commune with a person (Numbers 12:6, 8; 1 Samuel 25:39), and to speak to a person (Hosea 1:2; and perhaps Habakkuk 2:1). It may, however, be that the angel of the Lord presented matters objectively, and the prophet's own angel interpreted subjectively. But the Authorized Version is probably correct. I will show thee. This he does through the chief angel (ver. 10).
And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they whom the LORD hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth.
Verse 10. - The man that stood, etc. The rider upon the red horse of ver. 8, the leader of the company of horsemen. Answered the question which the prophet had proposed, or answered in response to a sign from the interpreting angel. They whom the Lord hath sent, etc. These angelic ministers had been sent to traverse the earth and to report its condition (comp. Job 1:7; Job 2:2; Hebrews 1:14), and to guide it to the carrying out of God's purposes.
And they answered the angel of the LORD 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.
Verse 11. - They answered. Having said who they were, the angel directs them to tell of their doings. The angel of the Lord. The "man riding upon the red horse" (ver. 8) is now called "the Angel of Jehovah." This term is usually held to denote a manifestation of the Logos, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, assuming an angelic form or imparting his immediate presence to the revealer of his will. Sitteth still, and is at rest. The world was lying in proud security. There was no sign of that shaking of nations which Haggai (Haggai 2:7, 21, 22) had foretold should precede the coming of Messiah and the restoration of Israel. In this second year of Darius, the empire, though suffering from internal disturbances, was outwardly at peace, and was threatened by no enemy at a distance. But the condition of the Jews was sad and disheartening; the temple still unbuilt, the walls of Jerusalem lying in ruins, themselves only a small remnant, exposed to the insults and attacks of jealous neighbours, living on sufferance as subjects of a heathen power, and no sign of the predicted salvation appearing, - this was their state. And the angel sees their despondency, recognizes their disappointment, and intercedes for them.
Then the angel of the LORD answered and said, O LORD 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?
Verse 12. - Answered. He answered the feeling in the prophet's mind, the unexpressed longing of his heart. O Lord of hosts. The angel is the intercessor for the people. So Christ prays to the Father (John 17.). How long wilt thou not have mercy, etc.? He prays that the weary waiting for deliverance may speedily come to an end, and Jerusalem be restored, and Judaea be again inhabited by a happy population. These three score and ten years. The predicted seventy years of captivity (Jeremiah 25:11; Jeremiah 29:10) were past; it was time that the punishment should cease. There are two computations of this period. The first dates from the first capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, B.C. 606, when Judaea was made tributary to Babylon (2 Kings 24:1: 2 Chronicles 36:6; Daniel 1:1, etc.), unto the return of the company of exiles under Zerubbabel, B.C. 536; the second dates from the final destruction of Jerusalem, B.C. 588, unto the second year of Darius, B.C. 519, when Zechariah saw these visions. However reckoned, the dark period was now over; might they not now expect the commotion among the nations which was to precede their own restitution?
And the LORD answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words.
Verse 13. - The Lord answered. The Angel of Jehovah is thus ca]led as the representative of God, whether we regard him as the Logos or a created angel empowered by God (see note on ver. 11). This personage is often seemingly identified with Jehovah (comp. Zechariah 3:2; Genesis 18:1, 2, 13, 17, 22; Joshua 5:14, 15; Joshua 6:2). He gives the answer to the interpreting angel, which the latter is to convey to the prophet, which he, in turn, was to announce to the people. Good words, promising blessing and salvation (1 Kings 12:7); and these are comfortable words (Isaiah 57:18), a message calculated to bring comfort to the people's desponding hearts. What the message is is given in the following verses (14-17).
So the angel that communed with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.
Verse 14. - Cry thou (Isaiah 40:6). The prophet has to publish two things:
(1) God's love for his people, however humiliated and miserable their present position might be; and
(2) the promise of coming prosperity. I am jealous. The term implies ardent love, which cannot bear itself to be slighted, or the object of its affection to be injured (comp. Zechariah 8:2, and note there; Numbers 25:11, 13; Joel 2:18). For Jerusalem, as the capital of the kingdom; and for Zion, as the seat of worship.
And I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease: for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction.
Verse 15. - The heathen; the nations, who were God's instruments in punishing Israel. That are at ease. Living in proud security and self-enjoyment (Isaiah 32:9, 11; Amos 6:1; comp. ver. 11). Septuagint, τὰ συνεπιτιθέμενα, "which join in attacking her;" Vulgate, opulentas, "wealthy," their riches giving them self-confidence. I was but a little displeased. God had been angry with his people, it is true, but only in measure, chastising them, like a parent, for their good. Others take "a little" (parum, ὀλίγα) to mean "for a little time," in allusion to the seventy years' captivity. And they helped forward the affliction; or, in the LXX., συνεπέθεντο εἰς κακὰ, "helped for evil; "Vulgate, adjuverunt in malum. They exceeded their part as mere instruments in God's hands, and wished to destroy Israel altogether, or to oppress them beyond the purposed period of their chastisement. A similar complaint is made against the Assyrians (Isaiah 10:5, etc.) and the Babylonians (Isaiah 47:6).
Therefore thus saith the LORD; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the LORD of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem.
Verse 16. - Therefore. Because God loved his people and was incensed with the heathen. I am returned; I return. According to the promise in ver. 3 (see note on Zechariah 8:3). A line shall be stretched forth. A measuring line shall now be used to mark out the city for rebuilding (Job 38:5). The first proof of God's renewed mercy would be seen in the restoration of the temple, the symbol of the theocracy, and in the revival of the city, the type of national life. The "line" had been used for purposes of destruction (2 Kings 21:13; Isaiah 34:11; Lamentations 2:8).
Cry yet, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the LORD shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem.
Verse 17. - Cry yet, saying. This introduces the second part of the prophet's message. The LXX. begins the verse with the words, "And the angel that spake in me said unto me." My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad. "Yet," in this verse, is better rendered again. God calls the cities his, to show his love for Judah; and he promises that they shall not only be reoccupied by returning immigrants, but increased in extent and number by reason of the enlarged population. So Josephus tells us that in later times Jerusalem had outgrown its walls, and that the fourth quarter, Bezetha, was added ('Bell. Jud.,' 5:04. 2). But it seems' best to translate the clause thus: "My cities shall yet overflow with prosperity." Vulgate, Adhuc affluent civitates meae bonis; LXX., Ατι διαχυθήσονται πόλεις ἐν ἀγαθοῖς. Shall yet comfort Zion, for all her afflictions. Shall yet choose Jerusalem (Zechariah 2:12 [16, Hebrew]; 3:2). God will show that the election of Israel remains unimpaired and secure (comp. 2 Kings 21:7; 2 Chronicles 6:5). The partial fulfilment of the items of this prophecy are to be found in the rebuilding of the temple, the restoration of Jerusalem by Nehemiah, and the prosperity of Judah under the Asmonean princes. A hint of further blessings is given in the final clause, but their nature is not expressly mentioned.
Then lifted I up mine eyes, and saw, and behold four horns.
Verses 18-21. - § 4. The second vision. the four horns and the four craftsmen. Verse 18. - I lifted up mine eyes, and saw. This vision is closely connected with the former. The prophet had been told that the hostile nations should be punished and scattered; he now is shown this threat being executed. Four horns, belching to four beasts but dimly seen or wholly invisible. Horns are symbols of strength and power (comp. Psalm 75:4, 5; Daniel 8:3; Amos 6:13). Here they mean powers hostile to Israel, and the number "four" (the symbol of completeness) points to the four winds from which they come, i.e. from every side. In the Hebrew ch. 2. begins at this verse.
And I said unto the angel that talked with me, What be these? And he answered me, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.
Verse 19. - Which have scattered, etc. Some see here an allusion to the prophecy of Daniel concerning the Babylonians, Medo-Persians, Macedonians, and Romans. Against this view it is urged that the prophet is speaking of past events, not of a far distant future. Others Lake the four horns to represent Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, and Medo-Persia, all of which had scattered Israel. But it is well to lay no special stress on such explanations of symbolical language, which are at best mere conjectures, liable to be overthrown by a new theory. The word "scattered," which Jerome renders ventilaverunt, means properly, as Wright observes, "to winnow," to separate and scatter by means of the wind. The perfect tense of this verb must not be pressed so as to exclude all notion of coming events. The prophets see at one glance past and future, and combine in one expression far distant occurrences. Doubtless Zechariah's vision has some relation to Daniel's, and his description of the powers hostile to the Church of God runs on parallel lines with that of his predecessor. Whether be refers to the same four empires must be left in uncertainty. Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem. All the tribes and the capital. According to Ewald, Judah is named first as occupying the place of honour, even as Benjamin is named before Judah in Psalm 68:27, because the capital city lay in its territory. Jerusalem was the centre of worship and government for all the people, the northern tribes being represented by Israel. the southern by Judah. Some critics cancel the word "Israel" here, and there is no doubt that it is often written for "Jerusalem" by mistake (comp. Jeremiah 23:6 [where see Professor Cheyne's note]; 32:30, 32; 51:49; Zephaniah 3:14; Malachi 2:11). Gratz supposes that in the present passage the scribe discovered his mistake, and wrote the right word "Jerusalem" after the wrong one "Israel," but leaving the latter still in the manuscript. Of course, there is no proof of this supposition. Some manuscripts of the Septuagint omit "Jerusalem" here.
And the LORD shewed me four carpenters.
Verse 20. - Four carpenters; craftsmen; Revised Version, smiths, in which case "the horns" would be made of iron. The word is applied to workers in wood, stone, and metal; therefore an ambiguous rendering seems most suitable here. LXX., τέκτονας; Vulgate, fabros. They represent the human agencies employed by God to overthrow the powers hostile to the Church. Their number is the same as that of the "horns," thus showing their adequacy for the work which they have to execute. It is quite unnecessary to attempt to identify the four "craftsmen." Some take them to be Zerubbabel, Joshua, Ezra, and Nehemiah; or Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Cambyses, and Alexander the Great; or the four evangelists; or generally, angels. We shall be safer if we look upon them merely as God's instruments and servants without further identification.
Then said I, What come these to do? And he spake, saying, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, so that no man did lift up his head: but these are come to fray them, to cast out the horns of the Gentiles, which lifted up their horn over the land of Judah to scatter it.
Verse 21. - And he spake. The interpreting angel spake. Which have scattered Judah. The LXX. adds, "and broke Israel in pieces." Did lift up his head. These powers laid Judah prostrate. To fray them. To terrify the powers symbolized by the four horns, and disturb their self-complacent Security (ver. 15). The LXX., mistaking the sense, gives, Τοῦ ὀξῦναι αὐτὰ εἰς χεῖρας αὐτῶν τὰ τέσσαρα κέρατα, "To sharpen them, even the four horns, in their hands." To cast out; to cast down, to overthrow these proud powers. Over (against) the land. The nations had treated Judah as a wild bull treats things that oppose him, tossing and scattering them to the wind.