Zechariah 1:7-21 - A Picture of Might, A Prayer for Mercy (Rev. Erik Veerman)
A Picture of Might, A Prayer for Mercy
We’re venturing into new territory this morning. Prophetic visions in the Bible.
If you’ll look on the back of your bulletin, you’ll see where we are headed. But before we even read our passage this morning, I wanted to familiarize you with how to interpret Biblical visions. We’re more used to other types of Scripture – like history or poetry or letters. Even regular prophecy is probably more familiar than visions. In the Bible, we find these kind of visions in three main places: the Old Testament book of Daniel, the last book of the Bible, Revelation, and here in Zechariah. There are some other visions, but these are the main ones.
Furthermore, we sometimes call these visions apocalyptic visions. That word apocalyptic is the word “revelation.” God has revealed these visions. And they often have strange things in them that we are unfamiliar with. Like in the book of Revelation – multi-headed dragons and beasts. In our Zechariah passage this morning, there are different-colored horses and horns. In later chapters there are walls of fire and flying scrolls. Overall, these images are other-worldly… they are dream-like. And it raises our curiosity but also our confusion.
But the visions serve a purpose. Visions in the Bible are there to give Gospel hope and comfort to a people who are overwhelmed in some way. For example, the visions in Revelation were given to the persecuted church, to give them hope. The visions here in Zechariah are similar. They were given to the returned remnant who were overwhelmed at the situation in Jerusalem.
One commentator I read said it this way – these visions give us a heavenly perspective of earthly matters. You see, these visions pull back the curtain for us, giving us a glimpse of God’s glory and his work. Through that heavenly perspective, they give Gospel hope and comfort to God’s people. We’ll see that over and over in Zechariah.
Ok, that’s what visions are for… but let me give you two essential keys to interpreting visions:
•First, when you come across a strange element like an animal or tree, or an other-worldly place… the most important first step is to look for other places in Scripture with that imagery. That will give us direction on how they should be interpreted. Let me give you an example. Revelation 9 mentions locusts rising out of smoke from the bottomless pit. They are not helicopters, as some will tell you. No, instead, we would need to go back to the Egyptian plagues OR the prophet Joel. We would then understand the locusts represent God’s judgement. The readers or hearers of the visions in Revelation or Daniel, or here in Zechariah would have a better foundation to understand these things.
•Second, visions typically have both a near-term and a long-term fulfillment. The near-term is often understandable in the historical situation… and we need to start with the near-term, with the immediate fulfillment. But we also need to see the long-term fulfillment of visions, which is a spiritual or heavenly fulfillment. And there’s often a Gospel component to the fulfillment in Christ. In Zechariah’s visions, we’ll see both the near-term earthly fulfillment and the long-term spiritual or heavenly fulfillment. We’ll see some of that this morning.
•And let me say, when you misunderstand the near-term or long-term fulfillment of visions… that is when problems arise. For example, when someone interprets all the apocalyptic visions in Revelation to be fulfilled on earth at the end times… then you end up with all these strange ideas and predictions. But if, instead, you see the visions as relating to God’s Gospel fulfillment in Christ with a spiritual and heavenly fulfillment, then all of a sudden the pieces of the puzzle come together. Revelation is just an extension of what the rest of the Bible teaches about faith, Jesus, God’s sovereignty, hope in heaven, and Christ’s return.
Here's the summary of all of that: Visions encourage and give Gospel hope to God’s people; interpretation needs to begin with the Bible; and last, vision most often have a near-term earthly fulfillment and a long-term spiritual or heavenly fulfillment.
Are you ready? Let’s now come to God’s Word.
Reading of Zechariah 1:7-21
1A) A picture of might: Vision 1 – Horses: God’s sovereign dominion over all creation (1:7-11)
I know some of you kids like riding horses at summer camp. Camp horses are nice, but the horses pictured in Zechariah 1 are horses of battle. Trained. Muscular. Mighty. Horses referenced throughout the Scriptures represent military might. They display the power of a kingdom. They show the readiness for battle. And there’s actually more than just four horses! In the original language, the color of the horses are also plural. So there are multiple red horses, and sorrel horses, and white horses. And presumably they each have riders, because they are sent out on a task and they report back.
So the first vision given to Zechariah is one of might and dominion. And at the center of the vision is a rider on a red horse. He’s identified as the angel of the Lord. And he’s standing – meaning he and the horse he’s mounted on – next to a group of myrtle trees. You ask, why myrtle trees? Well, a myrtle tree in Palestine referred to a flowering tree whose leaves are evergreen. Myrtle trees symbolized God’s covenant care and blessing. Take for example, Isaiah 55, which speaks of the Lord’s compassion … verse 13 reads, “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” This is similar to the myrtles used in the Old Testament feast of booths. The people built tents out of myrtle branches as a sign of God’s protection in the wilderness.
So the Angel of the Lord is arrayed with these horses, representing God’s dominion and might, and they are among the myrtles trees indicating God’s blessing and protection.
And then the horses are sent out to patrol the land, to oversee all and to ensure that the will of God is being accomplished. And they report that yes, indeed, God’s dominion is sure.
Think of Zechariah’s generation and their situation. They felt like the Lord was not with them. They felt vulnerable. To them, it was like the Lord was not in control. Yes, they may have been back in Jerusalem, but it certainly didn’t feel as if God was fulfilling his promises. The Persian kingdom controlled the region. The people lived in the rubble of a half-built city with a half-built temple. They felt alone and despaired of their situation.
So you see, this vision of the Angel of the Lord with the horses was exactly the spiritual encouragement they needed. Do you see now how this is a heavenly perspective of an earthly situation? God was saying to them, “you may not see how this is all working out – but by my might and through my dominion, everything is being fulfilled according to my sovereign plan.”
1B) A picture of might: Vision 2 – Horns: God’s victory over his and our enemies (1:18-21)
We’re going to come back to what happens next in the first vision. But I want you to jump down to the second vision (that starts in verse 18). This is a parallel vision. The first vision pointed to God’s dominion. This second vision points to his conquering power over his enemies.
And again, it’s a strange image for us. Four horns, verse 18. These are the horns of a wild beast. The power and weapon of an animal is in its horns. What do they represent? Well, Zechariah asked the angel. By the way, this is a different angel than the Angel of the Lord on the red horse. This angel is the one showing Zechariah the visions.
The angel responded that these four horns represent the earthly kingdoms that have overthrown and scattered Israel and Judah. And really, the horns represent all the earthly kingdoms opposed to God. The number four often represents the breadth of something… the four winds over all the earth, or the four groups of horses roaming over all the earth.
Zechariah’s generation knew that Judah and Jerusalem were at the mercy of earthly kingdoms. They were vulnerable. The land of Judah was at the crossroads of east and west. So they were often at the center of conflict. And they knew it. So they were distraught at the situation, they had no hope for future control or stability. And they had every reason to feel that way. Over the next 500 years, two other kingdoms - the Greeks and then the Romans would conquer the region.
But the vision continued. Zechariah was next shown four craftsmen. These may represent builders. Like builders who would rebuild the city and rebuild God’s house. Or they may instead represent blacksmiths – forging weapons of war. The craftsmen are also described as horns. And they would cast down the horns of the nations who have lifted up their horns against God’s people. It’s a picture of the conquering might of the Lord. No earthly power could overcome the power and might of the Lord in his sovereignty. So these craftsmen and other horns… they represent the deliverance and victory of the Lord over his and our enemies.
So, let’s take these two visions together. God’s dominion and power. They point to the sovereignty of God over all things. It’s a message of hope and steadfastness in the midst of despair or fear or uncertainty.
I know that we each feel those burdens to one extent or another. Maybe now, or maybe in the past, or maybe in the future. Despair at situations that seem hopeless. Fear and uncertainty because of sin around you and sin within you. And it’s not just an individual thing. These feelings apply to us corporately. Fear of what can or may happen to the church. The church seems to be very much at the mercy of the nation states of the world. We have many more freedoms in our country, but that’s changing. Think of the church in China, at the mercy of the so-called “people’s republic”. Or the church in North Korea, suffering under intense persecution. Or in parts of Africa and most recently, Afghanistan.
God is saying to them and to us, “all dominion and power and authority and might belongs to me – the sovereign Lord. Nothing that has or will come to pass is outside of my control. I am victorious over all the earthy powers and authority.”
2) A prayer for mercy
And our response? “You can say that, Lord, but I don’t feel it. How long will I suffer? How long will this pain – whatever it is - last? How long will the church be crushed under a Godless state like North Korea?”
Isn’t that the question, “God, if you are saying that you are mighty and powerful and in control, then how long will this last?” That’s what they wanted to know. That’s what we want to know. Am I right?
Go back up to verse 12. This is the question that the Angel of the Lord on the red horse asks! He’s asking it on behalf of the people “O Lord of hosts [Lord of armies, Lord almighty], how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?’” You see that? It’s a prayer! That is the prayer that they have and we have.
And this is where these visions turn from a picture to a promise for us. If you are following the outline, we’re now at point #2.
It’s one thing to display an image of God’s sovereignty with horses or craftsman, it’s another to make the promise real to them and to you and me.
Verse 13 “And the Lord answered gracious and comforting words”
That prayer in verse 12 is a prayer that you can pray to God. “How long, O Lord.” God wants you to cry out to him. Many of the Psalms are laments to God, appealing to him for help and mercy. And it’s in those times of lament that God often responds with gracious and comforting words.
And here, Zechariah is given two promises to declare to the people. Look at verses 14 and 17. Do you see the phrase “Cry out” repeated? Zechariah is to “cry out.” The angel is telling him what to declare to the people. But Zechariah is not just to say the words. No, God wants Zechariah to passionately proclaim to them hope in their situation. The Lord had just given them the vision of his dominion. And now he promises to them what he will do for them. So these are promises. Two promises that they can count on.
The first “cry out” is a promise to them of the Lord’s return and his restoration of the city. God is not angry with them. No, instead, his anger has shifted to the earthy kingdoms that overthrew Judah and Jerusalem. Yes, the Lord used Babylon and yes, he’s using the Medo-Persians, but that didn’t absolve them of their responsibility. They gloated over God’s people. They thought they were more powerful than Judah’s God. And Zechariah’s generation felt that shame. That was part of their overwhelming burden. But look at verse 16. “Therefore, thus says the Lord, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy.” God did not say, “I will return.” No, he said to them. “I have returned.”
You may not feel the Lord’s presence. Especially in times of despair or uncertainty. But if you are his. If you know the Lord. If you’ve turned your life to God in Christ. He is there. He is at work. He is sovereign. He knows and loves you. He said, “I have returned… with mercy.” It’s one thing to ascent to God’s might and dominion. It’s another to trust in it. That’s what he is calling you to do.
But notice, also, the Lord promised them that Jerusalem would be rebuilt. Second half of 16. That includes his temple. “My house shall be rebuilt,” it says. The temple represented God’s presence among the people. Jerusalem, the city, represented God’s people. This is not “it may happen.” No, this is “it will happen.” “…shall be rebuilt.” It’s a promise that Zechariah’s generation needed to hear. The city and temple would be rebuilt.
But this is where we need to pause for a moment. Remember, visions have a near-term and long-term fulfillment. As we get further into Zechariah, we’ll see that the physical temple and the physical city represent spiritual realities way beyond themselves. In fact, chapter 2 will help unlock this chapter 1 promise… for us.
For Zechariah’s generation, there was the immediate fulfillment of the physical temple and city. It will be rebuilt, but it will be nothing compared to the glory that it once was in King Solomon’s day. So there is an immediate fulfillment. But there is also a long-term spiritual fulfillment. This first vision is like the springboard into the Gospel hope to which these promises pointed. That will become very clear in the next two chapters. Stay tuned.
As we move to the second promise here, verse 17. We see that it’s similar. It’s a promise of peace and prosperity. But the prosperity that this ultimately points to, goes way beyond any kind of prosperity that will happen in their lifetime. In fact, a lot of their despair was rooted in a desire to see earthly prosperity and to see the earthy glory of Jerusalem and the temple.
We have the same problem today. We take God’s promises of peace and prosperity, and we think their primary fulfillment is in near term earthly things and health. We call this the prosperity Gospel. It’s a false Gospel. And it comes in different forms.
Part of God’s message to Zechariah’s generation was God’s spiritual presence and eternal hope and salvation. You see, it’s not earthly prosperity… it’s spiritual and heavenly prosperity. It goes way beyond the near-term promise of a rebuilt temple and city. We’ll be coming back to this theme in future weeks.
Conclusion: The Lord Almighty
So, to recap so far. The Lord has given Zechariah a vision of his mighty army, patrolling the earth… seeing to it that all is under his sovereign purview. The Lord Almighty has dominion over all the earth. But yet the situation in Jerusalem was still uncertain and tense. So the vision continued. Through the angels, the Lord revealed that he has returned and that he will bring restoration.
And that leads right into the second vision. A vision of God’s victory over his and our enemies. The horns of the earthy powers and authorities opposed to God will be defeated. God is both sovereign and powerful and this all will come to pass.
And these pictures of who God is, this prayer for mercy, and these promises of restoration and prosperity… they are not just for Zechariah and his generation. No, these are promises for you and me in our uncertainty, fear, and despair. To trust God’s dominion and power and to believe in his promises.
Let me close by connecting these two visions to the Gospel. Remember, one of the purposes of visions is to give Gospel hope and comfort to God’s people.
Let’s go back to this mysterious Angel of the Lord on the red horse. He plays a unique role, here. He’s the central figure of this first vision. He’s the one in charge of the different-colored horses and their riders patrolling the earth and reporting back to him. He’s the one among the evergreen myrtle trees. And this Angel of the Lord is interceding for the people. He’s the one praying on their behalf. “O Lord of hosts, how long...?”
Several places in the Old Testament speak of this “angel of the Lord.” Like when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, the angel of the Lord called out for him to stop. Or when Moses was at the burning bush, the angel of the Lord appeared to him. The angel of the Lord is referenced in the Psalms as both a rescuer and judge. And in a couple places in Zechariah, it’s this angel of the Lord who stands in the place of God to protect and redeem.
You see, at the center of Zechariah’s vision is a picture of Christ for us. Who prays on our behalf to God the Father… who intercedes for us. Who is the one who leads the heavenly hosts here on earth. Who is king and Lord – not a king detached from his people, but one leading the charge. They were given hope in this savior.
And in the second vision, the vision of the horns… they are given a picture of four conquering horns – horns that will overcome the four horns of the earthly kingdoms. Well, that image in Scripture is most often associated with the “horn of salvation.” Like in Hannah’s song of Thanksgiving or David’s psalm of deliverance. This “horn of salvation” is referenced in Luke chapter 1. We looked at it in December. Remember, John the Baptist’s father, the other Zechariah… He blessed the Lord. Why? For he “accomplished redemption…” it says, “He raised up a horn of salvation in the house of… David.” The power and victory over his and our enemies comes through Christ. It comes through the conquering power of the cross over the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Even though Zechariah’s generation lived 500 years before Christ, over and over they were given images of the Savior and his salvation, of his presence and intercession and forgiveness, of his rule and his reign.
These visions this morning… yes, they remind us of God’s dominion and power and his promises. But they also draw us to the savior. Christ, our heavenly warrior and intercessor. May we look to him for his strength and salvation in whatever fear and uncertainty we face. Amen.