The First and Second Vision
John Riddle, Cheshunt, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
AS WE HAVE ALREADY NOTED, chapters 1-6 contain a series of prophetic visions. Whilst their symbolism has been interpreted in different ways, the message of each vision is clear. In fact, it is often spelt out for us in simple language. Once we have grasped the main message conveyed by each vision, the splendid detail becomes easier to understand. We must, of course, remember why Zechariah was given these visions in the first place. As we have seen, the people had responded to the preaching of Haggai, and recommenced work on the temple. But they remained nonetheless a small and rather insignificant group of people who were ‘desperately struggling to establish themselves in a ruined city under the heel of a foreign power’, (F. A. TATFORD). They needed all the encouragement available, and they needed the assurance that God had not forgotten His people, nor cancelled His purposes for them. These eight visions did both: they encouraged the people to press on and complete the work, and they pointed to the coming glory of Jerusalem with the universal importance of its temple. Although there are some variations, the visions generally follow a standard pattern:
- Zechariah describes what he sees.
- He asks what it means.
- The angel gives him the explanation.
If you feel it’s all very baffling, just spare a thought for the prophet himself. No wonder he said, ‘what are these, 1. 9 what be these, 1. 19 … whither goest thou, 2. 2 … what are these, 4. 4 what is it, 5. 6 … what are these …’. He must have been very thankful that his questions were answered by ‘the angel that talked with him’, 1. 9; 1.19; 2.3; 4.1; 5. 5; 6. 5. And so are we!
THE FIRST VISION: CH. 1. 7-17
It is really in two parts:
- The Vision from God, vv. 7-11.
- The Message from God, vv. 12-17.
1) The Vision from God, vv. 7-11
‘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 …’, v. 8.
In the Old Testament, the angel of the Lord appeared in times of crisis, and the references make it clear that He was a divine Person. He is identified with God in Genesis 16. 7-14; Exodus 3.1-14; Exodus 23. 20-23 with Joshua 5.13-15; Judges 6. 12-14. He is described as ‘the angel of His presence’ (literally, ‘of His face’) in Isaiah 63.9. Hagar, Abraham and Jacob all describe Him as God, Gen. 16. 13,22. 11-14, 48. 15-16. He accepted sacrifices offered to God, Judg. 6. 17-24; 13. 3-23. The passage in Isaiah 63 identifies ‘the angel of His presence’, v. 9, and then speaks about ‘his Holy Spirit’, v. 10. Need more be said? The ‘man riding upon a red horse’ – also described as ‘the angel of the Lord’ - is the Lord Jesus Christ. Whilst at that point in time, the Lord Jesus had not entered manhood, His appearance as a man in the vision is undoubtably significant, compare Ezek. 1. 26.
- Who is the ‘man riding upon a red horse . .. who stood among the myrtle trees … ?’ The answer lies in vv. 10-11: ‘… the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said … and they answered the angel of the Lord that stood among the myrtle trees … ‘. So, the ‘man riding upon a red horse’ is ‘the angel of the Lord’.
- Why ‘among the myrtle trees’? The myrtle is an evergreen, and is used as a symbol for Israel in happy and prosperous times, see Isa. 41. 19, but particularly Isa. 55. 13, ‘Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. (The name ‘Hadassah’ - Esther 2. 7 - means ‘myrtle’). The myrtle grove in the vision represents God’s people, but not here in very happy conditions. So:
- Why ‘in the bottom’? The picture is a glen or hollow - a dark valley. It has been suggested that the reference could be to the lowest part of the Kidron valley outside Jerusalem, where there was once a garden, 2 Kgs. 25. 4. The word ‘bottom’ means a ‘a shady place’ and certainly describes the position of these newly-returned exiles. But standing among them is the angel of the Lord. The first practical lesson now emerges very clearly. Here were people struggling to build for God, and surrounded by enemies intent on stopping them. They were certainly ‘in the bottom.’ But God acknowledges them as His people - His myrtle trees - evergreen to Him - and He stands amongst them. That must have been an encouragement to them for a start, and to us as well. ‘When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee .. ‘, lsa. 43. 2. Read Hebrews 13. 5-6.
- What about ‘the red horses, speckled and white’? The colours of the horses in Revelation chapter 6 are explained there, but it would be more speculation than explanation to attempt an answer here! Notice, however, that they were behind him, i.e. behind the ‘man riding upon a red horse’. He is their Leader. Verses 10-11 explain the horses, if not their colours. ‘These are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth’. No doubt, reference is here made to their riders, and no doubt the riders were angels. The emphasis is on the speed and mobility of God’s horsemen. A patrol is reporting. The whole earth has been patrolled, and here is the report: ‘We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest.’
A second lesson emerges. The whole world is under divine surveillance. ‘The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth’, 2 Chron. 16. 9. Nothing escapes His gaze.
2) The message from God, v. 12-17
‘So the angel that communed with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying’, v. 14. A message of hope follows, but we must notice that the message is the direct result of intercession by ‘the angel of the Lord’. So He is not only in the midst of His people - ‘among the myrtle trees’ - but He intercedes for them: ‘O Lord of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalern?’ Seventy years of captivity had passed, and although a section of the people had returned, it was an uphill struggle. God had said through Haggai, ‘I will shake all nations, and the desire of all, nations shall come …. I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms’, Hag. 2. 7 and 22. But nothing was happening - ‘all the earth sitteth still and is at rest’. The ‘angel of the Lord’ presents the case of His struggling, suffering and downtrodden people: ‘How long?’
We too have a Representative in heaven. ‘Christ is … entered … into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us’, Heb. 9. 24. We have the same Intercessor as the Jews had in Zechariah’s day, but how much more we know about Him, and what a different relationship we have with Him! So Zechariah had a message to preach as a result of the intercession by ‘the angel of the Lord’. The message is made up of ‘good words and comfortable (consoling) words’, v. 13. It can be summed up as follows:
- ‘I am jealous for Jerusalem’, v. 14. Whilst often in the Old Testament, God is jealous in the sense that He will allow no rival in the affections of His people, here He is jealous in the sense that Jerusalem, which is ‘the city of God’, Psa. 87. 3, had become part of the Babylonian empire, and now part of the Persian empire. He wanted it for Himself - and He will have it.
- ‘I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease’, v. 15. The nations which had invaded and distressed His people, especially the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Edomites, had fulfilled a God-given role in punishing them, but they had overstepped the mark and increased their suffering to unacceptable levels. We shall see in the next chapter, that God remains most sensitive to the sufferings of His people.
- ‘I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies’, v. 16. What a message of hope! ‘My house shall be built in it … a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem’, i.e., measured for rebuilding. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell us that God’s word was here fulfilled. But the prophecy looks further ahead. Jerusalem ultimately fell again to the invader, and although since 1948 there has been a State of Israel, with all Jerusalem again under Israeli control, it will again be besieged and taken by international forces, see 12. 2 and 14. 1-2. If the prophecy was only concerned with the immediate reconstruction, it would amount to nothing more than a temporary respite for the people, to be followed by even greater disaster. But God points them forward to the ultimate prosperity and peace of Jerusalem. ‘My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the Lord shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem’. This is the day described by Isaiah in chapter 40. 1-2, ‘Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned’.
THE SECOND VISION, CH. 1 v 18-21
The first vision ended with stirring words, but how could this ever take place? The next two visions answer the problem. In the second vision, we learn that God will overthrow their enemies, 1. 18-21, and in the third vision, that God will protect them with His own presence, 2. 1-13. The second vision surrounds four horns and four carpenters. ‘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 if, v. 21.
The significance of ‘four’ may well lie in another direction. The number reminds us of the four cardinal points of the compass, and therefore of universality. The Bible speaks about the ‘four winds of heaven’, Dan. 7. 2; Zech. 2. 6, and ‘four angels standing on the four corners of the earth’, Rev. 7. 1. In the eighth vision, we will encounter four chariots which are interpreted as ‘the four spirits of the heavens’, 6. 5. In the absence then of clear identification, it seems sensible to regard the four horns as the symbol of national hatred and oppression of Israel. The history of the Jewish nation has been marked by suffering, oppression, persecution and exile through the horns of the Gentile nations. Perhaps the best commentary on the four horns is in verse 15: ‘the heathen that are at ease; for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction’.
The answer lies in the following chapter: ‘He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of his eye’, v. 8. We must also bear in mind Genesis 12. 3; ‘I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee’. It now becomes clear that this vision was intended to comfort these struggling builders, dwarfed as they were by giant world powers: their God was greater than alI, and every enemy of His people must suffer defeat and humiliation.
- Why ‘horns’? In the Old Testament, horns are emblems of strength and power. For example, Deuteronomy 33.17, where, speaking of Joseph, Moses said: ‘His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns (wild oxen)’. See also 1 Kings 22. 11, where Zedekiah (a false prophet) ‘made him horns of iron: and he said, Thus saith the Lord, with these shalt thou push the Syrians until thou have consumed them’.
- Whose ‘horns’? The answer is given in verse 21: ‘the horns of the gentiles.’ ‘Horns which have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem’. The four horns are therefore symbolic of the great Gentile powers which have scattered the Lord’s people.
- Why ‘four horns’? It would be tempting to line them up with Daniel chapter 2: ‘Thou art this head of gold (1). And after thee shall arise another kingdom (2) and another third kingdom of brass (3) and the fourth kingdom (4)’. In other words; Babylon, Medo/Persia, Greece and Rome. However, it does say here, ‘These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.’ The Assyrians scattered Israel, and the Babylonians scattered Judah.
- Why ‘carpenters’? The word ‘carpenter’ is a general word meaning ‘workman’ and refers to skilled workers in wood, metal and stone. The A.V. uses the word ‘carpenter’: the R.V. uses the word ‘smith’. The same word is rendered ‘craftsman’ in the New Translation (J.N.D.). But whichever word you prefer, the fact remains that their purpose is to demolish the horns, whether by carving them away, or by striking them with a hammer.
- Why ‘four carpenters’? Whilst some refer this to the fact that ‘horn’ Babylon was destroyed by ‘carpenter’ Media/Persia,and then ‘horn’ Media/ Persia was destroyed by ‘carpenter’ Greece, and so on, it does seem clear from the passage that each ‘horn’ is destroyed by the ‘four carpenters’ working together: ‘These are come to fray them’, v. 21. It seems equally clear that they are quite separate in identity from the horns. What then do the four carpenters represent? Bearing in mind their destructive mission, read Ezekiel 14. 21: ‘For thus saith the Lord God … I send my four sore judgments. . the sword, the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence …’, see also Rev. 6. 8.
- What do the’carpenters’ accomplish? ‘But these are come to fray (terrify) them, to cast out the horns of the Gentiles’. The R.V. translates ‘cast down’ rather than ‘cast out’, but the sense is clear: as a result of the activities of the carpenters, the nations are cowed and defeated. Why should God do this?
Numerous lessons arise from the second vision. For example, the very opposition we face is in itself the guarantee that God will deal with those responsible for it, 2 Thess. 1. 5-6. We are too precious to God for Him to stand by and do nothing. He may not act immediately - but act He most certainly will. Again, God will have the last word in this world. Some people and some nations resemble The Titanic commencing her maiden voyage - apparently quite unsinkable. But God’s carpenters are ceaselessly working. Human strength and power - even in this highly technological age - are nothing to Him. Again, Christ will be victorious in the final contest. A ten horned kingdom is yet to come, but the Lord Jesus, as the Lamb ‘in the midst of the throne’, has ‘seven horns’. His power and strength are perfect. Again, we can say with Zacharias, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel: for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us …’, Luke 1. 69. The vision illustrates the fact that God is able to strengthen and encourage us when we feel downcast and dispirited. We all sometimes feel too weak to lift up our heads, see v. 21, ‘No man did lift up his head’. But God had not forgotten them - nor us: He was working on their behalf - and ours, ‘For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me upon a rock. And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me’, Psa. 27. 5-6. ‘Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah. But Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head’, Psa. 3. 2-3.
AUTHOR PROFILE: John Riddle is an elder in the assembly meeting at Mill Lane Chapel, Cheshunt, and serves the Lord in written and oral ministry throughout the UK where his gifts are much appreciated. He took early retirement from business as a pensions executive.