Zechariah was a companion with Haggai in that energy and gift of the Spirit which was animating the returned captive in the building of the temple. But, under that inspiration, Haggai applies himself more exclusively to that one object. All he says he addresses to the captives by way of encouragement in the work then immediately in their hand. Zechariah looks out more widely, anticipating distant days in the history of Israel and of the nations, with a purpose beyond that of merely encouraging the builders in their work.
This book opens with a kind of preface in which the prophet, ere he details his visions, challenges the people, warning them not to treat the Lord's words by him as their fathers had treated other words of the Lord by other prophets, and which, nevertheless, had been fulfilled against them — had "taken hold of them," as he speaks. (Zech. 1: 1-6)
He then begins to record his visions. Haggai had no visions. Zechariah is principally instructed by them. But they both prophesied in the same year, the second of the reign of Darius the Persian.
Zech. 1: 7-17
This may be called "the vision of the horses among the myrtle-trees." The first of these horses had a rider on it, the others were in the rear, and, as far as we learn, were without riders.* The prophet asks the angel that waited on him what this meant. The rider upon the foremost horse tells him that these unridden horses were the agents of the Lord's pleasure in the earth. The unridden horses, the representatives of the Gentiles, then speak and say that the whole earth was still and at rest; that is, just as they would have it. For such, surely, was the mind of the nations of the earth, whom God had set up upon the degradation and fall of Jerusalem. So would they have it — their exaltation upon the ruin of God's people.
*They are without riders, I believe, in order to represent the senseless, brutish force which marked the Gentiles, unguided as they were by the Spirit of God. The first horse was ridden by a man, a symbol of the divine energy that ruled the fortunes of Israel. It was "the angel of the Lord" that was the rider. Nebuchadnezzar had been already as an unridden horse. (Dan. 4) So now the remaining three Gentile powers. (See Psalm 49: 20) So, in the next vision, the Gentiles are "horns," senseless things; Israel 's friends are "Carpenters."
The angel, who stood for Jerusalem, upon this, at once takes the alarm, and pleads for the city of the Lord and of Israel . The Lord having answered this. appeal of the angel, the angel seems to let the prophet know the answer, telling him that the Lord was displeased with the Gentiles, who were thus at ease, though they had helped forward the affliction of Jerusalem ; that Jerusalem should be restored, the Lord's house be built there again, and the cities of the land be reoccupied.
Zech. 1: 18-21
The second vision we may call, "the vision of the four horns and the four carpenters." It gave the prophet a view of the Gentile adversaries that had dispersed Judah , and also of the friends who were soon to avenge Judah at the hand of his Gentile adversaries.
This third division may be called, "The vision of the man with the measuring line." The prophet here has before him not only the angel who was attending him, but another angel and a man with a measuring line in his hand; and moreover, he hears the voice of. the Lord; or, it may be, the word of the Lord is rehearsed to him. But the whole of this teaches him, that Jerusalem is to be in its place, established and dignified again; and that after the glory has seated itself there, inquisition should be made of those nations, who, in the day of their calamity, troubled the Israel of God.* Zion, in that day, is to sing for joy; nations also shall join themselves to the Lord of Israel, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God, and be subdued to the sense of the presence of the Lord in the earth again.
*We see this again, I may say, in Matthew 25, when the Son of Man is on the throne of His millennial glory.
The fourth vision is that of "Joshua, the high priest." Having just received a pledge of the restoration of that city, we have now, in another vision, a picture of the justification of the people; and this, justification of Israel leads, in the end, to the beauty and acceptance of Israel in the days of the kingdom, when Messiah, "the Shepherd and Stone of Israel," shall be exalted in providential authority over the whole earth. But this picture is so vivid, so graphic, that it can be used as the delineation of the story of the justification of any sinner, in the great principles of it — as we know that justification itself is one and the same for each and all of us. It is the sinner, the polluted one, the Joshua in filthy garments, chosen, cleansed, stripped and clothed again, all in grace, in a grace that acts as from itself on the warrant of the blood of Christ, while we, like Joshua, are silent before it.
The fifth vision is that of "the golden candlestick." If, in the preceding vision, we saw the great act of justification exhibited, the value of Christ applied to the unclean condition of Israel, here we find exhibited the communication of power, and the application of the Spirit to the circumstances of Israel. It therefore follows in due order. And the power is pledged not, to be withdrawn till the needed grace be accomplished, and the work begun be completed;. till what was entered on in that day of restoration under Zerubbabel, be perfected in the day of the royal Messiah, the true Zerubbabel, the revived heir and holder of the honour and strength of the house of David, the head of all order throughout the earth, as in kingdom-days.
Zech. 5: 1-4
The sixth vision is that of "the flying roll." This is an exhibition of curse or judgment finding out sinners, whether sinners against their neighbours as thieves, or sinners against God, as false swearers.* The previous visions had been of mercy to Israel , either under the providence of God, or under Messiah, or under the Spirit; but now we get visions of judgment.
*Curse follows law. (Gal. 3: 10) As the law had its two tables, the curse has its two sides, corresponding, as we here see, to the two tables.
Zech. 5: 5-11
The seventh vision is that of "the Ephah with the woman sitting in it." This is a picture of wickedness — ajnomia — lawlessness. It is hidden — the woman in the ephah — and it is borne to the land of Shinar , its base, where it began its course. This we know; for Nimrod was the first great representative of the wicked or the lawless one, who is to be destroyed in the day of the Lord. This "wickedness" is hidden as here in an "ephah;" or, as in Matt. 13, in "three measures of meal" — hidden, I may say, under a profession, as of the religion of Israel , or of the name of Christendom. But it is really Babylon at the end as at the beginning, "the land of Shinar ;" as we again see in Rev. 17, and many other Scriptures.
Zech. 6: 1-8
The eighth vision is that of "the four chariots." These symbolize the four great monarchies so much spoken of by the prophet Daniel. These chariots, drawn by different horses, come forth from between mountains of brass, and then take their appointed course over different parts of the earth, and this may remind us of the first vision, or that of "the horses among the myrtle trees." Only we have a new fact here: viz., that the second chariot has settled God's question with the first; or, in the language of this vision, "those that go forth to the north country have quieted my spirit," saith the Lord, "in the north country." The Persian had, in the days of Zechariah, put down the Chaldean.
Zech. 6: 9-15
These closing verses of the same chapter seem to be a kind of appendix to this vision of the four chariots.* The prophet is instructed to take certain children of the returned captives, and in their presence to set crowns on the head of Joshua, the high priest; and then to address Joshua as a type of the Branch, the destined builder of the Lord's temple, the bearer of the glory, the combined priest and king who is to secure peace in the coming days of His kingdom. And having gone through this ceremony, the prophet was ordered to lay up these crowns under the hand of certain guardians, in the house of the lord, as a memorial of all this destined glory and power which are to be displayed in the last days, in the person of the Branch, that is, the Messiah of Israel, the Christ of God.
*For it intimates a fifth kingdom which in season is to be revealed, the four kingdoms of the Gentiles having preceded it.
But now we may observe, that on closing the sixth chapter, we have done with Zechariah's visions. We are also in another year, the fourth instead of the second of Darius. But I would separate these remaining chapters into what appears to me to be their distinct portions, as I have done with the preceding.
Zech. 7, 8
These chapters must be read together, I judge. For Zech. 8: 19, clearly seems to refer to Zech. 7: 3. They form the communication which was made by the Lord to the prophet, when the returned captives sent to inquire whether their captivity-fasts were now to be continued. The prophet begins his answer by a humbling word addressed to the conscience. They had, it is true, been fasting statedly during the years of their captivity; but he now tells them to ask themselves, had this been done to the Lord?
The character of the answer which the prophet, under the Holy Ghost, returns to the enquiring people is greatly worthy of thought; but it would be too much to consider it in its detail. I would, however, say this upon it: that this word of Zechariah reminds me of the method of the Lord Jesus in a like case. He never simply answered an enquiry, but so took it up as to call the conscience and heart of the enquirer into exercise. He looked rather to the moral state of the enquirer than to the subject of the enquiry. So, Zechariah here. He humbles, exhorts, and teaches, ere he gives the answer. But then, when he does come to give the answer, he gives it fully and blessedly indeed. He tells them that their fasts shall become feasts; and further, announces prophetically the bright and palmy days which yet in the distance awaited Israel .
Zech. 9, 10
These chapters, taken and read together, form another burthen of the prophet.
Syria , the Philistines, Tyre and Sidon are to be humbled, though a remnant may be spared, in the day when Israel is protected and vindicated by God her Saviour, and the eyes of men are towards the Lord. This is first announced here. And then, the appearing the royal glory of Messiah, is anticipated, offered, as we know it was, in the day of Matthew 21, but being then refused, it remains for a coming day when it will assert its place, and make good its claims by judgment, as the prophet here goes on to tell us.* But then, after that, the kingdom shall be displayed in its universality of strength or peace. The prophet then addresses Messiah, and pledges to Him, that by His own blood, which was the seal of the covenant, His people, His prisoners in Israel , should be delivered. And he then, suitably, addresses another word to Israel , presenting Messiah to them as the object of their confidence, and the security to them of victory and honour.
*The rejection of the King at His first coming has made judgment necessary to the future and final display of His glory in Israel . Many other prophecies, beside this of Zechariah, tell us this, as also the Lord's great prophetic word in Matt. 24.
The results of the recovery of Israel are then enlarged upon, in great and various blessedness, in Zech. 10.
This chapter may be read by itself. It gives us, as I believe, an anticipation of the ministry of the Lord Jesus, as in the gospel by Matthew — introduced, however, by some solemn premonitions of judgment, as we see in verses 1-3.
Messiah begins to cite His commission under the God of Israel, telling us, that He had come forth to find the sheep of Israel, for that they were in an evil case, from their possessors, their vendors, and their shepherds - that is, from such as the Romans, the Herods, and the Pharisees.
He then tells us. that He took two stalls, in order to fulfil this His commission. And these staffs were significant or symbolic. Moses, in other days, had his rod, Messiah now had His staffs. They signified strength and beauty; for Christ had to impart each of these to Israel , to establish and adorn them, to secure and dignify them. The inhabitants of the land, the great body of the Jewish people, are found to disappoint His service as much as any, so that He has still to separate "the poor of the flock" from the general "flock of slaughter."
His first service is then told us. After thus taking up the flock of Israel , (as He does in the earlier chapters of Matthew) He cuts off three of the shepherds whom He found in the land. This we see in Matt. 22: the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Sadducees, religious heads of the people, being then silenced in controversy with the Lord Jesus.
Having done this, Messiah disclaims them, breaking His staff, "Beauty," as we see Him doing in Matt. 23; withdrawing Himself, which was the taking away of their beauty from them; for they lose their glory when they lose Him. They were but a crownless head without Him; and that being so, all is gone for the present.
He then tells us that "the poor of the flock" waited on Him as "the word of the Lord;" and this we see, in perfect order and place, in Matt. 24: 25.
And then, He anticipates the scene of His betrayal and death, as in Matt. 26, 27. And this is followed here by the Prophet, as we know it has been historically, by the disruption of Israel . The other staff, "Bands," is broken.*
*The Godhead, the Jehovah-ship, as I may speak of Jesus, is fully set out in ver. 13. it was Jehovah who was priced at 30 pieces of silver.
A remarkable anticipation of Christ's ministry, all this is. But this being the history of the true Shepherd, the good Shepherd, at the hand of the flock, we then get the history of the flock at the hand of the foolish shepherd, the idol-shepherd. This is retribution, as many other Scriptures let us know. that the raising up of Antichrist will be in judgment upon Israel for their rejection of God's Christ, their own Messiah. This is future. See verses 15-17.*
*The foolish shepherd, thus raised up in judgment or retribution on Israel, because of their rejection of Messiah, may remind us of Saul. He treated the flock very much as this foolish shepherd is to treat them (1. Sam. 8); and he was given to the people, because they had rejected the Lord in the person of His servant Samuel; we may read Ezek. 34 in this connexion also. But I must add — that, though the good and true Shepherd was at first refused, and in retribution the foolish shepherd is to be raised up still, at the end, on the mountains of Israel, and beside the rivers of Israel, the flock shall again lie down and feed under the care of their Shepherd-king, the true David, who will guide them by the skilfulness of His hand, and feed them according to the integrity of His heart. All Scripture tells this.
Zech. 12, 14
These chapters form the last burthen of our Prophet. It tells us of "the day of the Lord," or of that great action which is to introduce the kingdom. It begins very significantly, celebrating God in three characters of glory — the stretcher out of the heavens, the layer of the foundations of the earth, the power of the Spirit of man. For these three characters are such as the kingdom is destined to display. For then, the God of grace and of glory will be seen as having furnished the heavens, as having established the earth, and as having renewed man. And the details of the prophetic burthen that follow this introduction, give witness of these things.
It is, as I said above, "the day of the Lord" which is delineated here, in various virtues and features of it.
The confederated enemies of Jerusalem shall be broken under the walls of Jerusalem in that day; and this shall be done after a manner and method which is to have respect to certain moral results. But if the hand of God work amid the circumstances of that day, the Spirit of God shall work with the people of that day also.
This is blessedly delineated here. The Spirit will begin His work with them in the power of conviction. They are brought to remember their sin against Jesus, and to mourn bitterly. Then, they are led to discover by faith, the remedy for sin in that very Jesus whom once with wicked hands they crucified and slew. Then, they consider their ways, and with Levite zeal, purify themselves; according to Deut. 13, nothing is spared, though dear as near kindred. Then they hold communion with Jesus about those very wounds which once they themselves inflicted.*
*This communion may be introduced (after the zeal of v. 4) by the Lord Jesus Himself breaking in, in Spirit, and saying, "I am no prophet, but an husbandman, for man has acquired me as a slave from my youth," for such is said to be the translation of verse 5.
The hand of the Lord shall then work in company with His Spirit, the fire of persecution or of discipline (the purging of the floor, as John the Baptist speaks) taking its course, and then Judah shall be acknowledged again by the Lord, and again the Lord shall be acknowledged by Judah, according to the pattern or precedent of Deut. 26: 17-19.
This leads to the close of Zech. 13.
At the opening of the next chapter, Zech. 14 — the last, we have the great action around the city, which had been anticipated. at the beginning of Zech. 12, further and more fully described, together with the interference of the Lord Himself in the behalf of the city, and the results of its deliverance., such as the consecration of it as the centre of God's earthly purposes, and the seat of His earthly glory; and then the millennial or kingdom-joy of the nations holding their feast-days there as the scene of public, universal festivation.
Solemnly, in the midst of all this, we are given to see the judgment of those who had been fighting against Jerusalem , and also of those who would not go up there to worship in the days of the glory. What ought to have been, but was not, shall then be realized. Holiness shall give character to everything; consecration to God. Nor shall there be blot or exception then, as hitherto there has been. The Canaanite was in the land, and left there, after Abraham had entered it; but now, "there shall he no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts." (See Gen. 12: 6; Zech. 14: 21) As one of our own poets says, "Days surpassing fable, and yet true."