Zechariah’s Night Visions: Visions One and Two

The first message of the prophet Zechariah was a call to repentance (1:1-6). The second message was given three months later (v7). It was on this very day, five months earlier, that the building of the temple had resumed (Hag 1:14-15).

This second “word of the LORD” extends to 6:8 and contains eight visions concerning God’s purpose for Israel, centred in Jerusalem. It is by means of the fulfilment of these visions that God will re-display His glory in the coming Priest-King (6:13). That these visions came by night is suggestive of the dark social and spiritual conditions of the nation.

Vision One (1:7-17)

Divine Presence – The Man Among the Myrtles

The first vision depicts a military scene. The “man riding upon a red horse” is identified as the Angel of the Lord (v11) acting in his capacity as Captain of the Lord’s host. As far as we know, this Angel had not appeared in Israel’s history for 200 years since the days of Hezekiah (Isa 37:36). But now, the defender and protector of Israel had returned!

The Angel rides a red horse, an animal symbolic of war and the colour of blood, judgment and vengeance. The myrtle trees (hadassim) likely represent the nation of Israel, the Hebrew word being closely related to the Jewish form of the name Esther (Hadassah, Est 2:7). The shrub was a lowly (growing only 6-8 feet) and fragrant evergreen with white blossoms, associated in Scripture with new life and millennial blessing (cf. Neh 8:15). The myrtle trees were situated in a ravine, metaphorically depicting the experience of the nation having been brought through the humiliation and shame of exile.

Behind the Angel stood three groups of horses – red, speckled and white in colour – representing an angelic squadron ready to execute their Captain’s commands. The vision was readily applicable to the times, as Persian rulers used mounted horsemen to patrol their empire and report on its condition. Likewise, these angelic horsemen walked “to and fro through the earth,” observing and surveying the activities of the nations (v10). Their reconnaissance report is given in verse 11: “The earth sitteth still, and is at rest.”[1] The Gentile nations that had exiled and scattered Israel were now living in the undisturbed enjoyment of relative political peace. Apparently, no one cared for the afflictions and sorrows of Israel – except the Angel! With priest-like intercession, he pleads for the completion of the process of restoration – no doubt ready himself to go forth with his angelic cohorts to execute swift judgment on Israel’s oppressors. While the 70-years’ captivity had come to an end in 536 B.C., the 70-years’ desolations of Jerusalem (indignation) would not be accomplished until 516 B.C. when the rebuilding of the temple was completed (having been destroyed in 586 B.C.). Note, then, the timeliness of this intercession, given that Zechariah was prophesying in 519 B.C.

Jehovah Himself responds to the intercession of the Angel with “good” (cheerful) and “comfortable” (compassionate) words, expanded in verses 14-17. First, God was jealous (intensely passionate) for His covenant people, being unwilling to tolerate their mistreatment. Second, He would judge those heathen Gentile nations that had added to the affliction of His people in exile (v15). Third, the tender affection (mercies) of the Lord would ensure the temple and city of Jerusalem would be rebuilt once again (v16). This is a prophecy of double character. While the temple would be rebuilt in three years, and the city of Jerusalem in the days of Nehemiah, their full glories await a millennial day when the Lord shall be in their midst (Eze 48:35). The surveyor’s line being stretched forth upon Jerusalem is a figure of reconstruction and restoration (Lam 2:8). Fourth, Jehovah would abundantly bless His people (v17). Not only Jerusalem, but the cities of Israel would be enriched and overflow with economic, social and spiritual prosperity. Zion would yet be comforted by the fulfilment of God’s promises, and Jerusalem would be universally displayed and reaffirmed as the city of God’s choice (cf. Isa 60:4-9).

Vision Two (1:18-21)

Divine Power – Four Horns and Four Carpenters

The second (1:18-21) and third visions (2:1-13) enlarge the divine pronouncement of displeasure with the heathen nations and promise to rebuild the temple and city of Jerusalem (1:15-16). To a pastoral people like Israel, the “four horns” were naturally symbolic of power and pride, and often represent kings and their kingdoms (Dan 7:24; Rev 17:12). These horns thus symbolise four proud Gentile powers responsible for scattering Israel (v21). The verb “scattered” can refer to a completed action in the past, present or future, and thus the entire period of the times of the Gentiles is in view. While the number four may represent the totality of Gentile opposition against Israel, it is more likely referring to four specific nations. Daniel had already spoken of four such great Gentile powers that would scatter Israel and tread down Jerusalem – Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome (Dan 2). In Zechariah’s day, the first of these horns had already been “cast out,” the Babylonian empire having been replaced by Medo-Persia (Dan 5:30-31). The fact that only three groups of horses were seen in the first vision may suggest that Babylon had already left the scene.

In contrast to the horns are “four carpenters” (v20). The word “carpenter” refers to a skilled workman in materials such as wood or metal. The basic idea is “cutting” in the form of engraving stone or ploughing soil. That there are four suggests they are equal to the task of overthrowing the four horns. These Gentile nations had so oppressed Israel that they are pictured as bowed down under their oppressor’s feet, having lost their freedom (v21). But the carpenters would cause them to “fray” (tremble), cutting off and throwing down their horns and thus disturbing their ease. Clearly, then, the carpenters are raised up as instruments of divine judgment to deliver God’s people from their enemies. They are represented in beast-like character in Daniel 7 and stand for Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome and Messiah’s kingdom, which shall smash a revived kingdom of Roman character – this is the Stone cut out without hands (Dan 2:34-35). What a thought! The lowly carpenter from Nazareth is the Stone that shall destroy Israel’s enemies. In the past, carpenters had been used in the construction of the tabernacle; now they were engaged in rebuilding the temple. As they worked, they would have afforded a timely encouragement and reminder of this prophecy. Their work was not in vain! They were small, and the Gentile powers were great, but Israel was indestructible. All their enemies – past, present and future – would ultimately be defeated, for God is faithful and His promises will never fail.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.