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Zechariah - Eight Visions of a Young Man

or: Constructive Answers to Anxious Questions

Michael Hardt

For some, Zechariah's night visions have become a source of encouragement, especially in days that are difficult for the testimony. For many others, they have always been somewhat obscure or even mysterious. This article is intended to help the second group in the following way: we suggest that Zechariah and other faithful Jews were troubled by a number of questions arising from their particular situation. We formulate these questions and show how each of them was answered by a distinct vision. We will also try to show how these eight visions build on each other. They show, step by step, the way from the remnant's desperate situation at that time to the time when God's plans concerning Jerusalem and, more importantly, concerning the "Man whose name is the BRANCH" (Zech. 6: 12) will be fulfilled.

1st Vision (Zech. 1: 7-17)

What were the difficulties in Zechariah's day? God's throne was no longer in Jerusalem (1. Chron. 29: 23). The Persian empire was in power. Comparatively few Jews had returned to Jerusalem and even those had stopped working (Ezra 4: 24). Zechariah lived among this poor, feeble, and oppressed "remnant" (Ezra 5: 1) which had very little to boast of: no display of power, no miracles, no sign of God's presence, not even the glory cloud. This brief sketch of the background may suffice to show that a first question arising must have been the following:

Question 1

Is God not displeased in any way with the present situation, i.e. with the Gentiles suppressing the people of God? In other words, should God allow this sad condition to persist indefinitely?

The first vision (Zech. 1: 7-17) provides the answer. The man on the red horse stops between the myrtle trees (speaking of revival: Neh. 8:15; Isa. 41:19; Isa. 55:13). The angel's message contains the following key elements: Jehovah is jealous for Jerusalem and Zion (v.14). Furthermore, He is sore displeased with the Gentile powers (v. 15). Verse 16 contains the promise that He will again show mercy and, specifically, that His house shall be built. Jerusalem shall be chosen (v.17). This answers the first question in a way that probably surpassed the expectations of many.

2nd Vision (Zech. 1: 18-21)

Given God's affirmation of the first vision that He would show mercy again, the question arises:

Question 2

But what about the Gentiles? How can Jerusalem be chosen and the cities overflow with prosperity (v. 17) if there are Gentile powers oppressing us?

The vision of the four horns answers their question fully. If these four horns of the nations have been allowed to rise against the land of Judah (v. 21) God will still have instruments to deal with them: four carpenters are ready (v. 20) to "come to affright them" (v. 21).

3rd Vision (Zech. 2: 1-13)

Gentile dominion was not the only apparent impediment to Zion's restoration. Looking around in Jerusalem, a faithful Jew would mostly see ruins. Walls, gates and houses were in ruins, a state that persisted even until Nehemiah's time (Neh. 1: 3). Further, only few people inhabited this city which made it appear even more desolate (comp. Neh. 7: 4).

Question 3

Will God take an interest in a city largely consisting of "stones,... dust" (Ps. 102: 14) and ruins?

The man with the measuring line (v. 1) gives the answer. He is going to "measure Jerusalem," i.e. take possession of it. This is reinforced by the angel's message stating powerfully that one day there will be so large a multitude living in Jerusalem that there can be no walls to it, except for the wall of fire which is Jehovah Himself (vv. 4, 5). Many who still found themselves in "the land of the north" or with "the daughter of Babylon" are invited to be, and will be, gathered (vv. 6, 7) after the Lord's appearing in glory (v. 8). Finally, Jehovah Himself will come (v. 10) and dwell in their midst (vv. 10, 11). He is presented as if He had already started His "journey" (v. 13), which would bring Him to them. Judah will then be Jehovah's portion and Jerusalem His chosen (v. 12). How full an answer to every heart that was troubled about the ruins of Zion!

4th Vision (Zech. 3: 1-10)

We now pass from practical obstacles (Gentile dominion; a city in ruins; numerical weakness) to a moral one. Anybody aware of the moral state of the people had to ask:

Question 4

How can this land be holy (Zech. 3: 9)? Are we not all defiled? What about our guilt? Can Jehovah restore the land of a people that is defiled and therefore subject to Satan's accusations?

Very fittingly indeed, in the next vision, the high priest Joshua appears on the scene, being clothed [1] with filthy garments (v. 3) and standing before the angel of Jehovah (v. 1). Satan does not fail to be present (v. 2) in order to accuse the people represented by their high priest. But the angel's message is different: "And he spoke and said unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from off him. And unto him he said, See, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I clothe thee with festival-robes" (v. 4). Iniquity taken away and festival-robes supplied instead: this is God's answer.

[1] Joshua's iniquity appears to be representative and not personal. In other words, it speaks of the sins of the people, not of his own sins: the iniquity of this land shall be removed in one day (v. 9).


5th Vision (Zech. 4: 1-14)

Moral guilt being (promised to be) taken away, the problem of practical weakness remains. Israel had no king but only a governor, namely Zerubbabel (Ezra 2: 2 and Haggai 1: 1). Royal authority rested wholly with the Persian Empire. The troubling question therefore is:

Question 5

What about our weakness? How can a testimony possibly be maintained under these circumstances?

The answer is framed in the vision of the candlestick (v. 2) and two olive trees (v. 3), the latter representing Joshua and Zerubbabel, the two leaders of the people or "the two sons of oil, that stand before the Lord of the whole earth" (v. 14). Verse 6 gives a very plain message to Zerubbabel: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith Jehovah of hosts." If the civil leader of the people had apparently insufficient power this would not frustrate the plans of God. It was not a time of outward display of power but "the day of small things" (v. 10). It was by the Spirit of God (v. 6) that a testimony (candlestick) would be maintained. Zerubbabel, despite apparent weakness, is one who is chosen to finish the work by grace (v. 7).

6th and 7th Visions (Zech. 5: 1-4 and 5-11)

While the first five visions contain strong affirmations of Zion's restoration in its diverse aspects the last three deal with complementary issues. Visions 6 and 7 even have the character of a warning. A Jew having heard of the content of Zechariah's first five visions might have wondered:

Questions 6 & 7

But will God overlook the evil that pertains among us?

Even though "I will remove the iniquity of this land in one day" (Zech. 3: 9) it will not be overlooked. Grace must not be turned into lasciviousness (Jude 4, Rom. 3: 8 and Rom. 6: 1). Zechariah therefore sees a flying roll (v. 2), being the curse (v. 3) that reaches the land because of moral evils against God (false swearing) and against one's neighbour (stealing). The result of any moral failure along these lines must be destruction (v. 4).

The seventh vision presents the woman sitting in the midst of the ephah and being personalised "Wickedness" (v. 8). This is suggestive of a system of idolatry. But religious evil can be tolerated no more than stealing or false swearing. Idolatry is traced back to Babylon (Shinar, v. 11), its source. As storks (v. 9) always return to their nests, idolatry is shown to have its origin and roots in Babylon. God does not overlook it but treats it as it is.

8th Vision (Zech. 6: 1-8)

Another potential misunderstanding is guarded against in the final vision. If Joshua and Zerubbabel are accepted by Jehovah as "the two sons of oil, that stand before the Lord of the whole earth" (Zech. 4: 14) the question arises:

Question 8

Should we submit to Gentile powers at all? Is it not sufficient to respect the leaders God has given us? (Especially as God is "wroth exceedingly" with the nations anyway (Zech. 1: 15)).

Especially in the light of the 5th vision such a thought may have occurred to several of the people. How attractive it would have been to get rid of the humiliating yoke of the Gentiles. But the final vision guards against this idea by drawing attention to the agents (spirits, v. 5) operating behind the Gentile powers. They do not simply act according to their own ideas but "go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth" (!) (v. 5b). Therefore, for the time being, they are sanctioned by the Lord. In part (only the black horses having gone to the land of the north and thus fulfilled their mission), they have already set God's mind at rest (v. 8. J.N.D. footnote: "or: have satisfied mine anger"). But until they have all accomplished what God has destined them to do, they have to pursue their course without deviating to the left or the right (v. 1).

How fully does God encourage His faithful ones in a day of ruin. And how carefully does He preserve from the misunderstandings that might otherwise arise. Thus, the way is open for the concluding scene: a Man whose name is the Branch, King and Priest on His throne. A sequence of the glories of the Lord Jesus is presented in verses 12 and 13. God's counsel and Zion's restoration find their centre in this Man: "Behold a man whose name is the Branch; and He shall grow up from His own place, and He shall build the temple of Jehovah: even He shall build the temple of Jehovah; and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be priest upon His throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both."

Still relevant today?

Finally, we would claim that Zechariah's visions, after more than 2,500 years, have not lost their relevance. Even believers who occupy a very special place in the Lord's heart (the church that Christ loved and gave Himself for (Eph. 5: 25)) may draw moral lessons from these old visions.

  • Firstly, we may learn that when God's people are oppressed, He may not always intervene but He is far from being indifferent (compare vision 1).
  • And it is just as certain that, for every opposing power, God has a suited instrument to deal with it in due course (vision 2).
  • Further, we can be assured of God's keen interest in the weakest effort to be a faithful testimony to Him (vision 3).
  • The Lord will provide for His people in view of their defilement and failure (if judged), as well as in view of the weakness of those involved (visions 4 and 5).
  • However, we must never assume that God overlooks or tolerates evil. Whether it be against our neighbour (vision 6) or against Himself (vision 7), He will judge it.
  • Meanwhile, we are to respect God's ways of providence and to be aware that, although He moves behind the scene, He governs and directs all things perfectly according to His plans (vision 8).

Learning these lessons will help us to appreciate more what God has to say about the glories of the Man of His counsels (Zech. 6:12-13).