Zechariah 1:7-17, The Horsemen in the Myrtle Trees

 myrtle-tree-at-dan-israel-01On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month which is the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, the prophet; and Zechariah said,  8  “I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding upon a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen; and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses.  9 Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’  10 So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered,  ‘These are they whom the LORD has sent to patrol the earth.’  11 And they answered the angel of the LORD who was standing among the myrtle trees,  ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.’ 

12 Then the angel of the LORD said, ‘O LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these seventy years?’  13 And the LORD answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.  14 So 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.  

15 And I am very angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little they furthered the disaster.  16 Therefore, thus says the LORD, I have returned to Jerusalem with compassion; my house shall be built in it, says the LORD of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem.  17 Cry again, Thus says the LORD of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’” Zech. 1:7 –17

The book of Zechariah can not be casually read and understood.  It is heavily laced with angels, symbolism and typologies, almost nothing is just literal and straight forward.  He casually references the geopolitical conditions of his age.  Of all the Biblical prophets he more than the rest is writing to a people in a specific time and place. Because of the internet a great deal of the history and geography is readily available.  But the symbolism and the typologies have to be studied, they require a full reading of the whole Bible, and a fair amount of Hebrew and Greek.

This vision occurred on the 24th day of the 11th month, which would be January or February 519 BC on our Gregorian Calendar; the end of winter and the beginning of the gentle spring rains,  three months after the last vision.  The work on the city would have stopped over the winter, and it is now time to plan for the next seasons rebuilding. It is in this freshness that is spring that Zechariah steps forward to begin his career as a prophet.

The first vision Zech 1;1-6, had been a rather disciplinary one.  This one is more assuring that God is watching over their whole situation.

Zechariah sees in a night vision , an angel riding on a red horse appears standing with three other horses among myrtles trees in a ravine or wash where myrtles grow.   Myrius communis, is a rather short evergreen broadleaf shrub no more than 8 feet high, the leaves are very fragrant, making this a rather pleasant shady place to have a meeting.  It is also a rather secluded place for such a meeting.  Very suggestive of a general receiving intelligence on the position and movements of a enemy from those who were sent out to reconnoiter the situation.  Now God does not in anyway need to be told what is going on.  But He often puts things in ways our finite minds can comprehend.  We have no understanding of being all knowing,  But we can comprehend a general receiving intelligence.

FYI: Myrtle is also one of the four species used in the celebration of Tabernacles [Lev. 23:40; Ne 8:15]. It is also one of the plants named as a a testimony of prosperity of the Messianic age [Isaiah 41:19, 55:13]

It is a little confusing as to how many beings, and who is talking to whom here.  There is Zechariah, the rider on the red horse, an angel,  The Angel of the LORD, and the LORD of Hosts.

FYI: The term “Angel of the LORD”, is considered in all of church theology to refer to Messiah before He became a man a dwelt among us, or the proper theological term the “Pre-Incarnate Christ”.

FYI:  When ever the word LORD appears in all capital letters it means that in the Hebrew there is God’s personal name YHWH.  (See also: God? What’s in a name?)

Zechariah asks the angel what these are, and the angel answers these are those the LORD has sent to patrol or look at the condition of the earth.  These horses and one assumes riders, (the number of which is not given) there are at least two of red, and no indication of how many of sorrel and white,  Which gives a total of at least four which are reminiscent of the four horses in Revelation.  They give their account of the state of the earth and by this they seem to mean only the Persian Empire.  As at the time it was ruling a large area from what is now Afghanistan to Egypt, what we now call the middle east.  They find the earth peaceful, and quiet… without conflict.  This was probably news to Zechariah,  living on the edge of the empire as he was.

horse-herdIn 522 B.C. Emperor Cambyses had died unexpectedly.  While on campaign in Egypt, he had received a report that his brother Bardiya had claimed the throne in his absence. Cambyses knew that this was not possible as he had killed his brother years before.  The Persian people had welcome the man Gaumata, whom they thought to be Baydiya as he had reduced the taxes.  He worked very hard to secure the loyalties of the tribal peoples as well, making trade agreements and also lower their taxes.

Cambyses left Egypt with only his best troops, the immortals, and a distant relative, Darius who served as his lance-bearer.  While passing through Syria the tip of his scabbard broke and his sword pierced his thigh, he died eleven days later of the infection.  At just 28 years old Darius claimed the throne.  His claim to the Persian throne was tenuous at best.  He continued on with the support of the untouchables to the fortress of of Sikayauvati where the usurper Gaumata was.  He killed the usurper, then spent the next three years in a struggle to secure the throne.

The peoples support for Gaumata made Darius spend the next three years putting down quite a number of subsequent revolts throughout the empire.  However, after a 3 year struggle he secured the throne.  The Empire was as Zechariah is told “at rest”.

FYI: Unlike the horses of the Revelation these horses have the same single mission, i.e. to patrol or survey the condition on the earth.   The horses of the Revelation all had different duties.  The horses of the apocalypse were white, the rider carrying a bow; red, whose rider took peace from the earth; black horse whose rider was controlling food prices; and an ashen horse whose rider was Death.

The Angel of the LORD asks, The LORD of hosts or armies, “O LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these seventy years?”  The Lord’s anger is because of Israel’s idolatry leading to the 70 years of Babylonian captivity.

The Jews had been told by Cyrus that they could return to Jerusalem.  As all people will, they envisioned a grand future of reestablishing their kingdom, similar to many views of the Millennium.  However, the reality that they were living was far different.  Since coming back, they had managed to build their homes, but they had only laid the foundation for the Temple, according to Haggai.  They had no walls and the temple was clearly not going to be the grand building that Solomon had built.  It was “the time of small things” Zech. 4:10.  Many were clearly disappointed.  It is into this disappointing conditions that Zechariah receives this comforting message that He in turn uses to explain and encourage the people.  The LORD of host is still jealous for Jerusalem.  He has not turned His back on them.  He has not forgotten their plight.  He uses the term jealous, a term a lover uses when the trust is not fully there.  God wants to be our only lover.  In the past Judah had taken other lovers, Ashtaroth, Baal, Molech etc. but now He expects that there will be no more of this straying from the covenant.

God now directs His anger toward the nations that are at ease.  He had used them as His tool of discipline.  But they had gone to far.  The LORD is concerned with Jerusalem not Babylon, Persepolis, or Rome.  These nations and all they ruled will blow away like chaff .

He assures them that the LORD’s house will be built. Daniel had given his prophecy that the temple would be rebuilt in 538 B.C. Just 19 years before this.  He had told the people that it would take 434 years to rebuild the city, and that the times would be troublesome.  So they were.  The Persian were fairly benign.  Even though many came complaining to the court that the Jew were not loyal and were rebuilding in order to lead a revolt.  The court always saw things for what they were and let the Jews continue building.  But the Greeks were another problem. After the death of Alexander, the little country of Judah now called Palestine, was fought over continually between the Seleucid empire to the North and the Ptolemys ruling Egypt in the South.  The Greeks and later the Romans were of the opinion that everyone does and should worship the same gods.  Their normal way of operating would be to just come in and change the local god’s name to a Greek or Roman names.  But the Jews resisted.  Ultimately the Seleucids under Antiochus Epiphanies when into the temple put up a idol to Zeus, sacrificed a pig on the altar, and began to enforce a law against circumcision.  This was the cause of the Maccabean revolt, from which we get the holiday of Chanukah.  Which celebrates the retaking and cleansing of the temple.

The literal interpretation of the passage, is that the city and temple were rebuilt.  However everyone who looks at this can see that there is clearly a typological interpretation as well.  Typologies represent something spiritual suggested in the literal.  The most famous of the typological prophecies is—

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanu-el. Is. 7:14 

In the very next chapter in Isaiah, his wife has this son.  Yet everyone knows that this is only a type of the Messiah that was yet to come.  So we have the same thing here.  Yes the literal temple was rebuilt.  However clearly something greater is here. The measuring line, is readdressed in chapter 2.  It is also in Ezekiel 42 and The Revelation 11, and The Revelation 21 where the measurements of the New Jerusalem are also given.

The literal interpretation refers only to the physical city of Jerusalem and is called the antitype.  But typological interpretation is a reference that spiritual city, that is made up of all the people who have believed.  That it is the people who are now make up a spiritual temple [1Cor. 6:19].

We like them are the church of small things. We live in the disappointing times of Laodicea.  Before us came the church of Philadelphia, (the church of the 18th and 19th centuries) all the doors were open. The governments of Europe and North America helped missionaries in their quest to spread the Gospel.  Now these same governments stand opposed to Christianity.  They now fight a religious war in Afghanistan with out missionaries or Bibles.  Therefore without hope of victory.

The great congregations have all but disappeared.  The denominations have shut Messiah out of their buildings and their lives.  Here in the church of Laodicea we struggle to open our own private doors to Messiah [ Rev 3:20].  We are mocked and ridiculed.  We meet in home churches, clinging to our Bibles and the promise that—

 He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” Rev. 3:21-22

We like the people rebuilding Jerusalem and the cities of Judah need the same encouragement to press on.  Our temple needs cleaning, Only then will we become the New Jerusalem.

There are all kinds of books and seminars that teach us how to be better salesmen, better investors, better husbands or wives.  Kids can go to camps to learn to be better ball players, better at math or science.  But there are no seminars on how to be a better temple.  How to walk closer to our God.  It can not be taught, it must be experienced, it must be lived.

Often what is available to believers about living a spiritual life is incomplete, false, or misleading information.  Blessed vials of oil or prayer cloths, will not make up for study.  Celibacy can hardly benefit one, as God used marriage in the very erotic Song of Solomon to explain our relationship with Him.  Cutting your self off from society, living in a cave or mountain will leave one with no understanding of family or employer employee relations that also are used to explain our relationship to our God.  We have to live life, for it is in the everyday occurrences that God seeks to teach us.

Search the Scriptures, study hard, spend some of your money on books and other resources that help you study.   Build your temple.

17 Cry again, Thus says the LORD of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’”

2 thoughts on “Zechariah 1:7-17, The Horsemen in the Myrtle Trees

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