7 On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.
8 During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.
9 I asked, “What are these, my lord?”
The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.”
10 Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.”
11 And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.”
12 Then the angel of the Lord said, “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” 13 So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.
14 Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, 15 and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’
16 “Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the Lord Almighty.
17 “Proclaim further: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’”
(Zechariah 1:7-17 NIV)
In the first passage of the book of Zechariah, we saw Zechariah introduced, and God proclaiming His covenant toward His people again. God pointed out that while He was angry with the Israelites’ forefathers, His covenant still transcended space and time. If the Israelites would return to the Lord, He would return to them.
Today, we begin with the first of a series of eight visions that the Lord gave to Zechariah the prophet. This second word from the Lord to Zechariah came three months after the first prophecy, and two months after Haggai’s last prophecy.
The book of Haggai used a lot of practical teaching and examples with a little bit of symbolism thrown in. By contrast, the book of Zechariah uses a lot of symbolism to teach and instruct.
In this first vision, we see this symbolism manifested, along with the spiritual significance that goes with it.
The date (the 24th day of the 11th month) was one week before their New Year’s Day. In our modern calendars, this would equate to February 15th, 519 BC. Their New Year’s Day typically signalled the beginning of spring. Their New Year also began all building projects, as well as military initiatives.
From history, we know that King Darius and his army marched from Babylon to Egypt in 519 BC to ensure Egypt’s loyalty to Persia. Their army would pass through Judah, likely through Jerusalem. The Israelites knew about this upcoming event and were likely concerned about what would happen and how they would be treated by the King and his army.
The location of this vision is in a ravine, under a grove of myrtle trees. Scholars believe this to be in the Kidron valley, outside Jerusalem. The Lord’s house (the Temple) was not yet rebuilt, so there was not a place for the Lord to take up residence in Jerusalem.
The horses (vv. 8-10) were symbols of dominance and power. Verse 10 tells us that the horses represented an angelic patrol dispersed across the earth; verse 11 says that they are gathered together because there is peace around the world. This would be a great relief and reassurance to the Jewish people, knowing that the Lord was watching over them and that they had nothing to worry about with King Darius and his army passing through.
The angel then asked the next obvious question before Zechariah could say anything: How long would it be until God would bless His people again? Verses 12-13 tell us that the Lord spoke words of kindness and comfort to the angel. Yes, the Lord had been angry with Israel’s forefathers (1:2), but now He was compassionate toward His people.
The Lord had now shifted His anger toward the nations that He had used to judge His people – these nations had taken things too far (v. 14). The Lord is now jealous for Jerusalem and the nation of Israel (v. 13) and wants to protect and provide for them again.
For those of us as parents, does this sound familiar? Our kids drove us nearly crazy sometimes with their childish ways and disobedience, and our constant discipline of them. But if someone else (either an adult or another kid) started picking on or bullying our child, our immediate response was to protect them – the “papa bear” and “mama bear” instinct overrode whatever was going on between that child and ourselves.
The Lord reiterated plainly that He would return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and show mercy and compassion to His people (v. 16). The Lord ends the vision by reassuring Israel that He will restore the relationship with His people, and His blessing will return to the land and its inhabitants (v. 17). Other translations of verse 17 repeat the word “again” four times to show God’s covenant promise to be true.
This vision was both a relief and a sign of hope for a weary nation.
May we also take comfort in the Lord’s words, and in His provision and protection. Just as the Lord promised to be with Jerusalem and Israel in Zechariah’s day, Jesus promises to be with us in our day, until He comes again (Matthew 28:20b).
May we live humbly, securely, and confidently in HIs promise.