Zechariah’s First Vision
“The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘Cry out, Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster” (vv. 14–15).- Zechariah 1:7-17
Upon hearing the warning that God would judge the post-exilic community for impenitence if it were to persist in not rebuilding the temple, the Jews to whom Zechariah first spoke repented (Zech. 1:1–6). This initial warning, however, was not all that the prophet had for the people. As we see in today’s passage, the Lord had more to say to the old covenant community by way of night visions given to Zechariah.
Zechariah’s vision of a horseman and his vision of horns and craftsmen occurred five months after the people had begun the temple rebuilding effort anew under Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest (v. 7; see Hag. 1:12–15). The prophet saw four horses and four riders, probably angels, who had been sent out by God to patrol the whole earth. Zechariah was standing with the “angel of the Lord” in this vision, and the report of these horsemen was that all the earth was at rest, that is, there was not any political upheaval going on (Zech. 1:7–11). This reflects the history of the Persian Empire in 520 BC. Other ancient historical sources report that Persia had just become calm again under the reign of Darius after a period of infighting and other problems. Humanly speaking, one of the reasons the people could rebuild the temple was that the kingdoms that had been causing trouble for the post-exilic community were no longer opposing the temple rebuilding effort (Ezra 4–5).
Under normal circumstances, this message of peace and rest would have been heard as good news. Yet that was not how the angel of the Lord received the report. He asked the horsemen why God was still showing no mercy to the people (Zech. 1:12). The angel received the message as bad news because it indicated that the Lord was not bringing about the end just yet. Remember that Haggai had told the people that there would be a shaking of the heavens and the earth before the arrival of the Messiah to bring about salvation (Hag. 2:20–23). If the earth was at peace and not being shaken, that meant that the end could not come yet, that the conditions of exile persisted, conditions under which the descendants of Abraham were not yet exalted above all the nations. This is confirmed by the angel’s remark that God had been angry for seventy years at Judah (Zech. 1:12). When the angel spoke those words in 520 BC, seventy years of exile had come and gone, but by bringing the current situation of the covenant community under that umbrella, we see yet again that even though the people were formally back from exile, the exilic conditions remained.
Zechariah’s first vision concludes with a word from the Lord that the people were not to take their continuing subjection to a foreign empire as proof that God had forgotten them. God reiterated His promises that He would bless His people and destroy His enemies (vv. 13–17). This is a good word for us when the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. No matter how successful the wicked look now, the Lord’s people will certainly win in the end.
Passages for Further Study