8. And I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle shrubs that were in a deep place and behind him (there were) horses red, bay, and white.
Behold—Literally not a verb—see, look—but an interjection, lo. The novelty and strangeness of the vision caused astonishment on the part of the prophet. The beings appearing in this first vision are the following: 1) The prophet; 2) The interpreting angel; 3) The man riding upon the red horse; 4) The men riding upon the red, bay and white horses; 5) The angel of Jehovah; 6) Jehovah Himself.
Man—probably an angel in the form of a man.Riding—the thought is that the man was mounted upon a horse and not that the horse with its rider was in motion. Red horse—Red is the color of blood. In Rev. 6:4it is the rider upon the red horse that is given a great sword and authority to take peace from the earth that men may kill one another. The color of the horse then symbolizes war and bloodshed. And he was standing among the myrtle shrubs—The pronoun looks back to the rider. The horse upon which he was seated was standing. Hence it is said that he was standing. He was standing in the grove of myrtles, because there was waiting the angel of the Lord to whom report had to be made. Myrtle—Not a mighty and stately tree but a lowly shrub that, in the vision, symbolizes the church. As she exists on this earth she is always a little flock, weak, afflicted and despised as was the case with her Lord and Savior in His state of humiliation. Deep place—Abyss. A symbolical designation of the diabolical world-power in which the church stands as a lowly shrub by which she is held captive and oppressed. And behind him horses—The man riding upon the red horse was not alone. Behind him stood an unnamed number of horses of which some were red, some bay, and the rest white. It must be imagined that a horseman sat upon each of them. That this is not stated is owing to the fact that the emphasis rests upon the color of the horseman. Red—(explained above) The same color as that of the horse upon which sat the leading horseman. Bay—reddish brown and symbolizing doubtless the working of God’s wrath in destruction by fire. White—The symbol of the heavenly glory of Christ and therefore also of His victory over all the enemies of the church (Matt. 27:2; Rev. 6:2). Thus the office of the horsemen is to plague the nations of the earth with war and bloodshed and destruction by fire and thereby to pave the way for the victorious appearance of the church in glory.
According to some, the colors are without symbolic meaning; they are only incidents introduced to make the picture complete. But this is a mistaken view, as will become clear as I proceed with my exposition.
9. Then said I, O my Lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will shew thee what these (be).
My Lord, what are these?—The prophet addresses his request to the interpreting angel. He is the prophet’s constant companion throughout all the visions. His task is to explain to Zechariah what he sees and hears. I will shew thee what these be—Reply of the interpreting angel. He will explain the vision.
10. And answered the man standing among the myrtle shrubs and said, These are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth. The interpreting angel explained the vision. He did so, however, not personally, but through the agency of the leading horseman, the man seated upon the red horse.And the man . . . answered and said—He replied to the prophet’s request for an explanation of the vision.These—The mounted horsemen that stood back of him. His answer to the prophet was that they were messengers of Jehovah, sent of Him to walk to and fro through the earth. From the succeeding verse it appears that they had been sent to observe conditions on the earth and to report on them.
11. And they answered the angel of the Lord that stood among the myrtle shrubs, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still and is at rest.
Having been presented by their leader, the horsemen made their report. And they answered—Their report was in reply to the question implicit in their mission, namely what they had found conditions on the earth to be. Hence, it is said that they answered, though no question was put to them orally. Whether they answered in unison or through a spokesman is not stated. The angel of the Lord—To the angel, who is now introduced for the first time and of whom it is stated that he, too, stood among the myrtles, the horsemen report. Who is this angel? In Zechariah 2:1-5 he is identified with Jehovah (see also Gen. 16:1-10, 31:11-13, 32:25-31). On the other hand, in the same passage (Zech. 2:1-5) he is discriminated from Jehovah (see also Ex. 33:20-23). Thus he is discriminated from and at the same time identified with Jehovah, that is, rightly considered, called Jehovah. This angel, therefore, is not a created angel but the second person in the Godhead, the same divine person that in the New Testament Scriptures is presented to us as the incarnate word, the Christ of God, in whose face shines God’s glory, and in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. It explains why the horsemen report to Him. They were sent also of Him. Behold! All the earth sitteth still and is quiet—The horsemen report that they have gone through the earth and find that all is tranquil, undisturbed by war and revolution. This was sad news, utterly discouraging. For by the former prophets and only recently by Haggai (Haggai 2:6, 7, 21, 22), Jehovah had promised that He would shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land, and the nations. He had vowed that He would overthrow the kingdoms of the nations through war in which they would destroy themselves and each other; and all this not alone preliminary to the salvation of Israel but also to secure Israel’s salvation, so that if the desirable things of the nations were to come and God’s house built, if the church was to be gathered and Jerusalem exalted and the cities of Judah were to overflow with good (see the following verses)—if, in a word, these promised things were to become an accomplished fact, the heavens had to be shaken, the nations shaken and the kingdoms of the heathen had to be overthrown in order that they in their totality might pass away forever.
Yet the horsemen report that the nations were not being shaken. The whole earth was still. Seemingly sad news. True, Jehovah had turned the captivity of His people. The church was back in God’s country. But she was still in a sad state.—Jerusalem for the greater part rubble, her gates burnt, her walls broken down, the remnant small and poor and under the dominion of the heathen, and the kingdoms of the heathen established, strong and prosperous with no sign of their being shaken. When would their troubles end? where was the coming of His promise? Would His mercies never return? These questions were present in the souls of His people and bespoke their despondency and discouragement, which the angel and Jehovah would now remove.
12. Then answered the angel of the Lord and said, O Jehovah of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy upon Jerusalem and upon the cities of Judah against which thou hast been angry these three-score and ten years? The horsemen had done reporting. The one to speak next was the angel of Jehovah. He answered, replied to the report. But His reply was a question that He addressed not to the horsemen but to Jehovah Himself. And with reason. In merely observing conditions on the earth instead of having stirred up the nations by war, which was properly their office, the horsemen had acted under the instruction of Jehovah, it must be assumed. It was therefore to Jehovah that the angel put his question. How long wilt thou not have mercy . . . ? It was like asking how long before Jehovah would send forth His ministers—the horsemen—to plague the nations with war.
What the church at that moment was made to behold, in the vision, was a wonderful thing.—The Son of God interceding for His chosen people before the face of Jehovah all those years before His incarnation, actually functioning as their great priest touched by their infirmities. “For,” so it is written of Him, “In all their afflictions he was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in his love and in his mercy he redeemed them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isa. 63:9).
O, Jehovah of hosts, how long—This was the cry of every distressed believer. It is the cry of all the saints of all the ages (Rev. 6:10). In the vision the angel is presented as making this cry his own. As his cry it was a sinless and calm reminder to Jehovah’s face of His promises to His people and of His eternal purposes regarding them. And as His cry it availed already then, being the cry of the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world.
Wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem—The reference
Wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem—The reference is not to Jehovah’s mercies as such, which is His will to bless and His actually blessing His people always, but to that working of His mercy that resulted in the temple being built and Jerusalem delivered, rehabilitated and exalted. Against which thou hast been angry—With respect to His chosen people the anger of His love by which they were brought to repentance and driven into the arms of Christ. These three score and ten years—The seventy years of the Babylonian captivity. These years had been predicted by Jeremiah (25:12), “And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon . . .” This period had expired about fourteen years prior to the date of this vision. Though the Lord had turned the captivity of His people, the condition of the remnant in Jerusalem was still hopeless from a human standpoint (see above).
13. And Jehovah answered the angel that talked with me with words good and comfortable.
And Jehovah answered—Jehovah addressed His answer not to the questioner, the angel of Jehovah, but to the interpreting angel, the constant companion of the prophet. But why should Jehovah ignore the angel of Jehovah in replying to His question? According to some, the angel of Jehovah had no need of the comfort of the answer. But being afflicted in all the afflictions of His people, he did have need of the comfort of the answer to His question as well as they. May it not be, therefore, that the fact that Jehovah passes by the angel of Jehovah in replying to His question must be taken as an indication of the identification of the two—Jehovah and the angel of Jehovah—also here, so that the speaker is again the angel of Jehovah here, too, designated by the name Jehovah, which, as was said, is proper, seeing that He is the second person in the Godhead. Through Him in His office of mediator of God and of man the triune Jehovah answers as addressing His reply to the interpreting angel. Words good and comfortable—The prophet’s characterization of the answer. For it was the Gospel of Christ and of God, the glad promises of salvation by which Jehovah, its author and true preacher, lifted up the drooping spirits of His afflicted and despondent people and made them to shout with joy: And so a word good and comfortable, literally consolation. The prophet could say that as he, himself, tasted its goodness and experienced its power to comfort.
14. So the angel that talked with me said unto me, Cry thou saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.
The angel that talked with me—Is the angel that talked with the prophet the angel of Jehovah? This is rather difficult to determine. What is in favor of identifying the two are the following: 1) The interpreting angel explained the visions to the prophet so that he had spiritual understanding of them and believed and was comforted. 2) The interpreting angel explained the visions and thus seemed to be gifted with an insight into the meaning of the Word of God to which no mere human could attain unless instructed by Him. 3) Though the preceding verse states that Jehovah answered, it is the angel that talked with the prophet that did the answering. 4) It was the angel that talked with the prophet, the interpreting angel, that commanded the prophet to cry—cry the answer—and the prophet did so as moved and inspired by that command of the interpreting angel. All this would seem clearly to indicate that the angel that talked with the prophet was the angel of Jehovah.
Thus saith Jehovah of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy. The Scriptures ascribe to Jehovah jealousy. As jealousy is adopted from marriage, it means that the relation that obtains between Jehovah and Israel is that of spiritual marriage. Jehovah’s jealousy then is His zeal for Israel as His spouse,—a zeal that rises from His love of His people. In His jealousy for His people as their husband He insists that they love and serve Him alone in rejection of all other gods. His jealousy burns, therefore, when His people become unfaithful to Him as His spouse and also when, as a result of His having sold His people into the hands of their enemies in punishment of their adulteries, they find themselves under the dominion of strange masters that, as activated by hatred and malice, oppress and afflict them in the attempt to destroy them from the face of the earth.
Jerusalem—The church as the capital of Christ’s kingdom but in the first instance the earthly Jerusalem of our prophet’s day. Zion—Jerusalem and Zion were identical. Despite all her sins and backslidings Jerusalem is Jehovah’s beloved spouse by virtue of His having chosen her in Christ. Hence, His great jealousy for Jerusalem and Zion and for the cities of Judah.
15. And with great anger I am angry with the heathen that are at ease; for I was but a little angry, and they helped for evil.
And with great anger I was angry with the heathen—A participial construction expressing the idea that Jehovah’s anger with the heathen was permanent, an enduring fire that burned with steady flame and with fierce and undiminished heat. Here the heathen, therefore, are the reprobated heathen. Implied is the thought that in due time Jehovah, without fail, would also reveal His anger over the heathen. That are at ease—Though Jehovah was angry with the heathen, they were tranquil, in a state of carnal security, confident in their power and prosperity. For I was butt a little angry—Jehovah was but a little angry with His people. Indicated is not the degree but the duration of Jehovah’s anger regarding Jerusalem. It had lasted but a little while comparatively speaking. The reference is in the first instance to the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity of Judah into which the church had been led by Jehovah. They had helped—The heathen had helped not certainly as co-laborers with Jehovah but as the rods of His anger. Through the heathen as His organs, that He had’ prepared for Himself and raised up for that very hour, “He had swallowed up all the inhabitants of Jacob . . . thrown down the stronghold of Judah . . . cut off the horn of Israel . . . swallowed up Israel” (quotations from Jeremiah 2). All was Jehovah’s work and at once the act of the heathen as His agents. So, in this sense they had helped. They had helped for evil—So the text here reads literally.For evil—as the act of the heathen it was evil work in every point of view. What had moved the heathen was hatred of Israel and carnal ambition. Their design was to destroy the church from the face of the earth (Ps. 74:8). Though but rods of Jehovah’s anger, they gave Him not the glory but boasted in their own wisdom and power (Isa. 10:13), and delighted in the afflictions and sorrows of God’s captive people. Therefore Jehovah was angry with the heathen with a great anger.
16. Therefore, thus saith Jehovah, I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies, my house shall be built in it, saith Jehovah of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem.
Therefore—the thought is that, because of His jealousy for Jerusalem, fie was returned to her with mercies and implying that He would surely punish the heathen for their ill-treatment of His people. The mercies wherewith Jehovah was returned to Jerusalem can be named. He had returned the captivity of His people. They were back again in God’s own city. His house was in process of being built. But this was not all. My house shall be built in it, saith the Lord—Building operations would continue uninterrupted until His house was completed. And with His house completed, He would again be dwelling in their midst. Amazing mercy. And a line will be stretched forth upon Jerusalem—The measuring line that was to be used in marking off the space upon which the city was to stand and implying that the city was to be built according to a fixed plan (Zech. 2:2; Jer. 31:39). So, not only His house but also the city was to be rebuilt.
17. Cry yet saying, For thus saith Jehovah of hosts, my cities shall yet overflow with good; and the Lord shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem.
Cry yet—Still other mercies to be announced. My cities—The cities of Judah that were scattered throughout the land of Jehovah and that were in a state just as sad as that of Jerusalem. Shall yet overflow with good—So reads the text literally. Everywhere in the land is distress, but when Jehovah has returned to His holy temple the whole land and every place in it shall be filled to overflowing with goodnesses all the fountains of which are in Him. Jehovah. This is the idea. And Jehovah shall yet comfort Zion—Doing so by returning to Jerusalem with these His mercies. And shall yet choose Jerusalem—As His abode that she might be to the praise of His grace. Yet—that is, despite the fact that from a human standpoint Jerusalem’s condition is hopeless and also despite the fact that the city deserved to be obliterated forever on account of her sins.
However, eventually Zerubbabel’s temple was destroyed and Jerusalem overthrown by the heathen and permanently forsaken by Jehovah, when the city had filled up her measure of iniquity. So Jehovah had sovereignly willed. For Zerubbabel’s temple was but a shadow the body of which is the church of the redeemed. It is, obviously, with this house of God, founded by Christ in righteousness by His suffering and death upon the cross and of which therefore He is also the builder, that our prophet in the final instance is occupied. This being true, his gospel is also and especially for us, God’s afflicted people of this present hour. It is a gospel the reach of which extends to the end of time and beyond. And its glad message is, that, however impossible from a human standpoint, because of the, machinations of the wicked, heathen in the text, who are always destroying God’s temple, this temple, God’s, house; shall be built, the church shall be gathered, so that, when, at Christ’s appearing, the church with Him appears in glory, not one place in the family of redeemed shall be vacant, not one stone in God’s temple will be missing. And the whole earth, the new earth, and every place in it, will be filled to overflowing with the fullness of the blessings of Jehovah, dwelling bodily in Christ. And the heathen with whom He is angry always He shall judge. And the sure pledge that all shall come to pass is the fact that Zerubbabel’s temple was indeed completed and the earthly Jerusalem rebuilt, as He had promised.