Take a moment to pray. Ask God to speak to you through his word—for his Spirit to convict you of sin, teach you the truth, and lead you in walking by faith.
Setting the Scene
Sometimes we can’t help but be overwhelmed by sin and its devastating effects. People wrong others, and they wrong us. We try and fail. We get confused, embarrassed, or shamed. In the midst of such times we often look around and wonder, “what is God doing?”
The prophet Zechariah ministered to people in the same kind of situation. During his ministry in late 6th century BC the people of Israel had returned to the land from exile in Babylon/Persia and had begun rebuilding the temple. Rather than experiencing a glorious renewal, they were facing stiff opposition.
Whenever we face opposition, whether it’s garden variety pushback or persecution due to our faith in Jesus, we can easily get discouraged. The good news is that God was not content to leave them (or us) discouraged. Zechariah’s visions are for Christians who have been let down, whose hopes have been dashed, who need some encouragement.
As we venture in Zechariah’s 8 visions we need to remember what these visions are and are not. They are symbolic representations of truths and events designed to highlight their meaning. They are not video surveillance footage. Usually the visions depict something from the future, but sometimes they depict the present and even past. Often an angelic interpreter/guide helps clarify the meaning.
Zech. 1:7 On 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 the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah, son of Iddo:
The precise date of this vision (and probably all 8 visions) was Feb. 15, 519 BC. From the prophet Haggai’s ministry as well as the book of Ezra we know that the people had resumed work on the temple in Jerusalem 5 months prior.
Zech. 1:8 I looked out in the night and saw a man riding on a chestnut horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in the valley. Behind him were chestnut, brown, and white horses. 9 I asked, “What are these, my lord?” The angel who was talking to me replied, “I will show you what they are.”
Zech. 1:10 Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the LORD has sent to patrol the earth.”
The horses (and riders) are those whom God sent to “patrol” the earth. The idea here is one of authority. The background of this picture is the familiar Persian idea of messengers on horse keeping the king informed. These are the Lord’s agents on patrol.
Zech. 1:11 They reported to the angel of the LORD standing among the myrtle trees, “We have patrolled the earth, and right now the whole earth is calm and quiet.”
They report that the earth is all quiet. The “man” in the midst of the myrtle trees is actually the angel of the Lord (Yahweh’s messenger). Sometimes the angel of Yahweh is a manifestation of the Lord himself, while other times the angel of Yahweh simply refers to one of his messengers.
The Persian war machine was at rest at this point in history. They had supplanted Babylon, and as of the time of the vision the Ancient Near East was not at war.
Zech. 1:12 Then the angel of the LORD responded, “How long, LORD of Armies, will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and the cities of Judah that you have been angry with these seventy years?” 13 The LORD replied with kind and comforting words to the angel who was speaking with me.
The angel of the Lord asks God how long he will not show mercy to Jerusalem and Judah, “these 70 years” (cf. Jer. 25:11, 12, 29:10). The exile is thought of as 70 years in the prophets. The question presumes unfinished business. God’s people anticipated rescue and retribution, not simply Persian peace. Here the angel of Yahweh asks God to show mercy on Israel, and God responds with words of comfort and grace. He is trustworthy.
Zech. 1:14 So the angel who was speaking with me said, “Proclaim: The LORD of Armies says: I am extremely jealous for Jerusalem and Zion. 15 I am fiercely angry with the nations that are at ease, for I was a little angry, but they made the destruction worse. 16 Therefore, this is what the LORD says: In mercy, I have returned to Jerusalem; my house will be rebuilt within it—this is the declaration of the LORD of Armies—and a measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem.
Zechariah is instructed to proclaim that God is jealous for Jerusalem and Zion (Zion is a throwback term for Jerusalem). This idea of jealously expresses God’s desire for the unrivaled love and attention of his people. He wants his people to be his exclusively. As Joyce Baldwin said, this jealousy is “a measure of the intensity of his love towards those with whom he has entered into covenant.”
In contrast to God’s jealous love for Israel, he is angry with the nations “at ease.” God had sent them to judge Israel, but their own sin and evil was now at issue. Specifically Babylon, Assyria, and Edom are likely in view.
While God commanded that the people return to him, he had returned to show them mercy. That mercy would be seen not only in their return to the land, but also in the rebuilding of the temple.
The measuring line referenced here is the workman’s tool who will rebuild the city. The point is that Jerusalem will once again be inhabited by God’s people (cf. Jer. 31:38-40).
Zech. 1:17 “Proclaim further: This is what the LORD of Armies says: My cities will again overflow with prosperity; the LORD will once more comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.”
This return and blessing will benefit not only Jerusalem, but it will “overflow” to the cities of Judah as well. God has not forgotten his promise to bring the people back and restore Israel from Ezekiel 43:1-5, 48:35.
The Big Picture
When we zoom out and consider the story of the Bible, we realize that people have needed God’s mercy since Adam and Eve’s failure in Genesis 3. The sin problem permeates every people and culture throughout all time. We need God’s mercy.
God has shown his mercy in many ways (like sparing Noah’s family, calling Abraham to Canaan), but the epicenter of his mercy came with Jesus the Messiah. Jesus, God incarnate, poured out his mercy to Israel and beyond by dying for our sins and rising from the dead. He truly reveals God to us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14-18).
In the vision God promises that Jerusalem will be restored complete with a functioning temple and that he will return to her. It’s no mistake that many of the key moments in Jesus’ ministry occurred in Jerusalem. In fact, when he cleansed the temple in John 2 he proclaimed that he is the better temple (John 2:19-21).
This means that Jesus is the mediator of God’s grace to humanity through his sacrifice on our behalf. This is how jealous the Lord is for us—he came to die in our place so that we could receive mercy.
In Revelation, the Apostle John sees the New Jerusalem descend from heaven to the new earth. Once again, it’s no mistake that the city is called Jerusalem: it’s there that the Lord will dwell with his people forever.
Taking It Home
In the vision the angel asks, “Where are you God? Weren’t we your people?” He was definitely “asking for a friend.” The people were feeling lost; this return to the land didn’t seem right.
Have you ever been there? Questioning God’s presence or his plan? Have you looked up to the heavens and said, “What’s going on? This doesn’t seem right!”
The answer is clear: God’s agents are on patrol. No one’s getting away with anything in the end. And most importantly: God’s zeal for his people results in grace.
God is jealous for his people. Think about that for a moment: God is jealous for your attention, your worship, your devotion. Sometimes we forget just how much we are loved.
This aspect of God’s character has not changed. God has a special, jealous love for believers. He chases after us, won’t let us go, and actively shows us grace. He is so jealous for us, he provided a permanent sacrifice in Jesus. So God’s zeal for his people results in grace.
Do you think of God as chasing after you? Passionate for your affections? Jealous for your love? We can’t skip over the amazing and profound reality of God’s special love for believers. We need to hear this most of all when we are discouraged.
There is great comfort for us in God’s zeal for us. His jealous love for us reminds us that we are not alone, that he has not forgotten us, and that he is showing and will continue to show us grace. That grace is seen most clearly in his provision of a way to relate to him- in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Praise God for his zeal for his people. Thank him for the plan of salvation, that Jesus took on flesh and died for our sins.
- Ask God to help you trust him in the midst of discouragement. If you are frustrated or disappointed, lay that burden down in prayer. Confess your sins to the Lord.
- Pray for the faith to live in light of the love of God for you. Praise God for his unconditional love.