The Word Made Fresh
1In the eighth month of the second year of the reign of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo:
2“The LORD was very angry with your ancestors. 3So, tell the people that the LORD Almighty says to them, ‘Return to me and I will return to you. 4Don’t be like your forebearers. The prophets told them that I said, “Return from your wicked ways and evil deeds.” But they didn’t listen. 5Where are your ancestors? And are the prophets still living? 6But didn’t my words and my laws which I gave to my servants the prophets finally settle on your forebearers? And they repented, saying, “The LORD Almighty has treated us just as we deserve, and just as God planned.”‘”
7On the twenty-fourth day of Shebat, the eleventh month, still in the second year of the reign of Darius, the LORD’s word came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo. Then Zechariah said, 8“During the night I saw a man riding a red horse, standing among the myrtle trees in the narrow valley. Behind him stood red, chestnut, and white horses. 9I asked the angel who was speaking with me what they were doing there, and he said, ‘I’ll tell you.’ 10Then a man standing among the myrtle trees said, ‘These are the ones the LORD has chosen to go throughout the world.’
11“Then the men on horseback said to the angel of the LORD who was now standing among the myrtle trees, ‘We have gone throughout the world, and the whole world is still at peace.’
12“Then the angel of the LORD cried, ‘LORD Almighty, how long will you refuse to have mercy for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah? You have been angry with them these seventy years!’
13“Then the LORD said with pleasant and comforting words to the angel who spoke with me, 14and the angel said to me, ‘Declare this message: The LORD Almighty says, “I am very jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion, 15and very angry with the nations now living at ease. They made matters worse when I was only beginning to be angry.”‘”
16So, the LORD has returned to Jerusalem with compassion. God’s house will be built in it and the measuring tape will be stretched out over the city. 17And tell them this also: “My cities will again be prosperous, for the LORD will comfort Zion and once again choose Jerusalem.”
18Then I looked up, and saw four horns. 19I asked the angel what they meant, and he answered, “These are the horns that have scattered Judah and Israel and Jerusalem.”
20Then the LORD showed me four blacksmiths. 21I asked, “What are they going to do?”
The LORD answered, “The horns scattered Judah so that no one could stand straight, but now these have come to frighten them and strike down the horns that attacked the land of Judah and scattered its people.”
Zechariah is a mixture of historical narratives, prophetic oracles and apocalyptic visions. Scholars have long suspected that the book is a collection of writings from several authors, Jeremiah being one favorite nominee. We will not spend too much time trying to figure this out, but will simply read the book and see what it has to say to us.
1-6: Zechariah is mentioned in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14 along with Haggai. There he is called simply, “Zechariah son of Iddo,” but we can be sure it is the same person. It is October, 520 B.C. in Jerusalem, although it is not clear from the opening lines that the prophet is in Jerusalem. He begins with God’s call to the people to repent their evil ways, and seems to receive a positive response from them.
7-17: Skipping to January 519 B.C., we have the first in a series of eight visions. Zechariah sees horses hidden among trees in a glen. They are identified to him as those who have been patrolling the earth (compare Job 1:7 and 2:2). God reveals to Zechariah his impatience with the nations “now living at ease,” and tells him that Jerusalem will be comforted once again as God’s chosen.
18-21: The second vision is a bit more perplexing. The four horns represent the nations that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem: Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon are obvious candidates, but the fourth is harder to identify — perhaps Ethiopia or Aram. The blacksmiths are there to terrify and strike down the “horns,” but it is difficult to identify them with real people or nations. Still, the point is that God will see to it that the great and arrogant nations of the day will be brought low, but Judah and Jerusalem will be strengthened.
Over and over the prophets tell the story of how God is always in the background waiting for the opportunity to reclaim the people of Israel. God is like that with us as well, but even when God seems distant we can be assured that we are not alone, and that God can and will attempt to reclaim us when we finally recognize our stubbornness to have things our way and surrender to God’s guidance.