Weekly word – 2/15/24

Zechariah’s Eighth and Final Vision

In one night of eight visions, God revealed to Zechariah His complete plan for dealing with the sin of Israel and rest of the world. 

The first vision is set among myrtle trees at night (1:7-17). God sends four patrol horses to assess the world. When they return, they report that the world is at ease. This report prompts the wrath of Yahweh against those nations who sinned against Israel. Babylon was the primary offender; it demolished Jerusalem and brutalized its people in 586 BC. God promises one day Jerusalem and the cities around it will be blessed with prosperity and spiritual comfort.

In the second vision (1:18-21), God reveals to Zechariah how He will bring retribution on these nations at ease. He appoints four craftsmen who will go out to dismantle the nations which exalted themselves over Israel.

In the third vision (2:1-13), God shows Zechariah a man prepared to measure the future city of Jerusalem. He shows Zechariah that it will become a massive, impenetrable city. It will be filled with faithful Jews and Gentiles whom God will always protect.

These first three visions speak about the distant future. The next three address matters in Zechariah’s day. Israel was a fragile, powerless nation being rebuilt by returned exiles, suffering under the oppression of its neighbors. What is God’s plan for them?

In the fourth vision (3:1-10), God anoints Joshua, the High Priest as Israel’s spiritual leader. To do this, He rebukes Satan’s accusations against Joshua, cleanses him, gives him new garments, and charges him with being an exemplary leader to the people. Finally, God promises to bring His Servant, the Branch, who will remove all of Israel’s sin in one day.

In the fifth vision, (4:1-14), God empowers Israel’s high priest, Joshua, and its governor, Zerubabbel, by His Spirit, to finish building a new Temple. Unlike the last 70 years of judgment, God is now showing His active presence in the nation through these leaders.

In the sixth vision (5:1-4), God begins the process of disciplining His people by putting a curse over the land of Israel to purge its thieves and those who swear falsely by His name. This isn’t a national redemption; but God is showing He won’t let them self-destruct through unchecked sinfulness.

In the seventh vision (5:5-11), God continues the purification of Israel by packing up its sin and transporting it to Shinar, the capital city of Babylon. Thus, wickedness that had completely overtaken Israel will begin to grow among the Gentile world. This wickedness will reside there until it is set up “on a pedestal” and worshipped. This looks forward to a time when worship of wickedness will overwhelm the world.

The eighth and final vision runs parallel to the first vision, but is different in three key ways. 

First, in chapter one, a patrol departs and returns to God at night among myrtle trees (which Nehemiah 8:15 says are growing throughout the hills around Jerusalem). But in the final vision, another patrol departs and returns from two bronze mountains. The darkened, inconspicuous shrubbery of Jerusalem turns into two powerful, metallic mountains symbolizing God’s reign on earth. This is meant to encourage believers in Zechariah’s time that God’s dwelling place, Jerusalem, will be glorious and powerful one day when God reigns from it in His kingdom.

Second, in both visions, God sends patrols throughout the world. But in the first vision, God sent four riders on horses simply to assess the earth. In the final vision, God sends four chariots with multiple horses to establish peace in the earth. The first group was an intelligence patrol; the last group is a military patrol. When God reigns on earth, He won’t merely be watching omnisciently from the heavens; He will actively establish perfect peace and justice in every nation.

In short, these two “upgrades” contrast Jerusalem in Zechariah’s time with Jerusalem in the Messianic kingdom. With those differences in mind, let’s read this final vision and see what these powerful angelic chariots accomplish:

Then I looked up again and saw four chariots coming from between two mountains. The mountains were made of bronze. The first chariot had chestnut horses, the second chariot black horses, the third chariot white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled horses — all strong horses. So I inquired of the angel who was speaking with me, “What are these, my lord? ”

The angel told me, “These are the four spirits of heaven going out after presenting themselves to the Lord of the whole earth. The one with the black horses is going to the land of the north, the white horses are going after them, but the dappled horses are going to the land of the south.” As the strong horses went out, they wanted to go patrol the earth, and the Lord said, “Go, patrol the earth.” So they patrolled the earth. Then he summoned me saying, “See, those going to the land of the north have pacified my Spirit in the northern land.” -- Zechariah 6:1-8 (CSB)

Like the first vision, this patrol goes throughout the earth. But the way they return gives us the final key contrast with the first vision. 

Here's the third key difference between the first and last visions. In the first vision, God showed His wrath with the captors of Israel, chiefly Babylon, but did not yet act upon it. But in this last vision, the last verse says that God’s Spirit is “pacified” by the two chariots which patrolled the “northern land”. That means they have poured out His wrath on Babylon.

The phrase “northern land” is used in Zechariah and other prophets as a synonym for Babylon (Isaiah 14:31; Zechariah 2:6; Jeremiah 3:18, 6:22 16:15; Ezekial 37:14-16). Babylon is synonymous with Shinar, the city where sin was worshipped in Zechariah’s seventh vision. God let sin grow out of control there until His judgment came upon it both for what it had done to Israel and the pervasive wickedness inherent among its people.

Babylon commonly symbolizes the capital of the unbelieving world. Read Revelation 18, which describes its corrosive effect on the world as “a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean bird and a prison of every unclean and hateful beast.” (Revelation 18:2) In the same way that Jerusalem is the place of God's redemption, Babylon is the place of God's judgment. 

When Jesus returns, those who live in sin under the deception of Satan will be judged along with Babylon. But those who follow God will be gathered and protected in Jerusalem, just as the third vision prophesied (2:10-13).

The main message of these chapters is summarized in Zechariah 1:4 “‘Thus says Yahweh of hosts, ‘Return now from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’” Jews and Gentiles are alike in that they are sinners. But God in His grace reveals His coming judgment so that we can return to Him today, trust our lives to Christ, and “wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come,” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

Pastor David