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COMMENTARY ON ZECHARIAH 3-6 (2)

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

The Fourth Vision. The Heavenly Court - The High Priesthood Is Restored. God’s People in the Person of Their Representative High Priest Are Fitted for the Accomplishment of His Purposes (3.1-10).

God’s plan of restoration continues with the vindication of God’s High Priest (3.5) and the promise of the coming of the Branch (3.8-9), which will lead on to the final restoration (3.10). Once again God’s people will be represented before God by one fitted for the task. In his restoration is also to be seen a picture of the restoration of God’s people (verse 2)., for he is their representative. It is important to note that God’s people cannot be used by Him unless they are thoroughly cleansed and ‘reclothed’ in the righteousness of God.

The scene is set in the heavenly court with the Angel of YHWH sat as the Judge, and Satan standing by as the Accuser. The awe-inspiring nature of the scene is brought out by the fact that, unusually, Zechariah asks no questions, and is asked none. He can only watch in awed wonder, makes one interjection, and when it is over he has to be stirred as though out of sleep (4.1). For here is a scene set in the Heaven of Heavens where God’s intentions for the future are being laid out. In such a place all must be silence. (There is a certain similarity to 1 Kings 22.19-22. Compare also Job 1 & 2. The difference here is that God’s people are represented).

Alternately we may see the scene as taking place in the Temple as the High Priest was ministering there, but if so it becomes the equivalent of the heavenly court for he is brought face to face with the Angel of YHWH (who is always visible) and surrounded by heavenly visitants.

3.1 ‘And he showed me Joshua the High Priest standing before the angel of YHWH, and Satan standing at his right hand to be his adversary.’

The scene is set. The angel of YHWH is seated in majesty surrounded by His court. The one appointed to represent God’s people on His behalf stands before Him. But there also stands there one who will oppose him, ‘the Satan’ (adversary, accuser), who wants to prevent the restoration of God’s people on the grounds of their sinfulness.

Joshua, as the representative of the people of God, is there at God’s command to receive God’s favour. But that he and the people are unworthy comes out in the sequel. Before they can be used by God they must be cleansed and restored before Him. ‘The High Priest’ is a post-exilic description of ‘the Priest’. Compare 3.8; 6.11; Haggai 1.1, 12, 14; 2.2, 4.

‘The Satan’. Here we are introduced to that shadowy figure who lies behind much of man’s history. It was he who in the Garden of Eden first led man astray (Genesis 3). It was he who criticised Job before God (Job 1.1 to 2.6). His aim is ever to prevent the success of God’s purposes. Here he has come to oppose God’s people, for he dare not directly oppose God. It is clear from what follows that his accusation is based on Joshua’s unworthiness.

(Note that ‘the Satan’ is not yet specifically a proper name although it is moving in that direction. It is a description, ‘The Adversary’).

This picture portrays vividly the spiritual reality that God’s people continually face. Man in his need approaching God to receive from Him His benefits, and the shadowy figure of the adversary ever seeking to prevent it.

3.2 ‘And YHWH said to Satan, “YHWH rebuke you, Oh Satan. Yes, YHWH who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you. Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” ’

Yahweh speaks first to the Satan through the angel of YHWH with a word of powerful rebuke. Satan’s accusations are in vain. He has no right to interfere in God’s purposes for it is God Himself Who has chosen Jerusalem and the people in it. Joshua stands there as the representative of Jerusalem, and he stands as a brand plucked from the fire. His people have suffered under God’s judgment, and the fires of God’s judgment have burned. But now they have been plucked out of that fire by God Himself, delivered so as to further His purposes. Satan has no answer to this, and discomfited, passes from the scene defeated. We learn from this that our security from the power of Satan lies in the sovereignty of God.

‘A brand plucked from the fire’. The phrase is also found in Amos 4.11. The idea is of one who is spared at a time of judgment.

3.3 ‘Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and stood before the angel.’

The picture depicts man as he is in God’s eyes. The splendour of the High Priest’s vestments count for nothing before Him. They have been stained by the faithlessness of the past. Before God he is ‘filthy’. As Isaiah 64.6 declares, ‘all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags’. So Joshua stands before God (Who is there in the person of the Angel of YHWH) totally aware of his filthy state and his utter unworthiness. Man as he is in himself has no place before God.

Of course no High Priest would enter the Temple in such a state which makes it clear that if this is in the Temple it is a surrealistic description. But if we see him as having been brought before the heavenly court, what was earthly might well appear filthy.

3.4a ‘And he answered and spoke to those who stood before him, saying, “Take the filthy garments off from him.”

‘Those who stood before Him.’ We now see the solemnity of the scene. This is the heavenly court. YHWH is surrounded by His hosts.

YHWH directs the removal of Joshua’s filthy garments. He is to be reclothed by God’s grace. We learn in Romans that this ‘passing over of sins done aforetime’ was possible because of the work to be finally accomplished on the cross (Romans 3.25).

3.4b ‘And to him he said, “See, I have caused your iniquity to pass from you, and I will clothe you with rich apparel.”

The stress here is on God’s sovereignty and grace. Joshua as representative of His failing people deserves nothing but judgment. But God graciously removes his totality of sin from him and makes him glorious in righteousness, in ‘rich apparel’. New beginnings in God’s work must always begin with the cleansing and renewal of His people.

3.5 ‘And I said, “Let them set a fair mitre (turban) on his head.” So they set a fair mitre on his head and clothed him with garments, and the angel of YHWH stood by.’

As the prophet watches in awe he calls for the setting on Joshua of a new and more worthy mitre, significantly in the form of a royal turban (Isaiah 22.18), on the High Priest’s head. This intervention by him is intended to draw attention to the importance of this ‘crowning’. Joshua is being given royal authority. The High Priest’s headpiece ‘of fine linen’ bore on it the inscription ‘Holy to YHWH’ on a plate of pure gold (Exodus 39.30). But here it has been replaced by a royal turban. So the High Priesthood is restored to God’s favour as a ‘royal priest’ and again becomes usable by Him and acceptable to Him. In all this we are to see not only the High Priest himself but also the people he represents, reclothed in righteousness which was not their own as they are prepared for what lies before them.

‘The angel of YHWH stood by.’ YHWH takes a deeply personal interest in what is happening.

3.6-7 ‘And the angel of YHWH protested to Joshua saying, “If you will walk in my ways and if you will keep my charge, then you will also judge my house, and you will also keep my courts, and I will give you a place of access among those who stand by.’

Here God guarantees the acceptability of the new Temple that is to be built, on condition of obedience. If Joshua is ready to be obedient and to recognise his calling and be faithful to it, then he will be set in authority over God’s house and have responsibility for it. This will, of course, give him supreme authority over the people of God. Furthermore he will be given direct access into the presence of God. But as ever, all is conditional on obedience. Later generations would seek to retain the authority without the obedience. Thus it became a meaningless formality.

‘Among those who stand by.’ The heavenly court. Thus Joshua is to have similar access to theirs. (Some, however, see this as referring to other priests along with Joshua).

3.8a “Hear now, Oh Joshua the High Priest, you and your fellows who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign.”

Joshua and his ‘fellows’ (the priesthood? the judges of Israel?) are to recognise that they are a sign of what is to come (compare Isaiah 8.18). They have been established to preside over God’s people and are enjoying God’s deliverance. But God plans a yet greater deliverance for His people through a Greater One Who will preside, and they therefore are a sign pointing to the Coming One. Their obedience and concern for justice will point forwards towards, and guarantee, the coming of God’s chosen One through Whom God’s final blessing will come.

3.8b “For behold I will bring forth my servant the Branch (tsemach).”

This promise relates to Isaiah 4.2 and 11.1 onward. ‘In that day shall the Branch (tsemach) of YHWH be beautiful and glorious ---- There will come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a Branch (netser - different Hebrew word but same meaning) from his roots will bear fruit, and the Spirit of YHWH will rest on him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of YHWH.’ This promise was further taken up by Jeremiah who declared, ‘Behold the days come, says YHWH, that I will raise to David a righteous Branch (tsemach), and He will reign as king and deal wisely, and will execute judgment and justice in the land’ (Jeremiah 23.5 compare 33.16) and He then confirms that He will guarantee the line of David until this promise is fulfilled (Jeremiah 33.21).

Here then in Zechariah God renews the Messianic promise of the coming, Spirit-filled king, of whom Joshua is a type, a symbol (Zechariah 6.12).

3.9 “For, see, the stone that I have set before Joshua, on one stone are seven eyes (or ‘fountains, springs). Behold I will engrave its engraving (or ‘I am opening its opening’), says YHWH of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of the land in one day.”

The crowning of Joshua has been highly symbolic. It has pointed forward to the Messianic king. The stone mentioned may be that set in the High Priest’s turban. The seven eyes may represent ‘the eyes of YHWH’ as ‘they run to and fro through the whole earth’ (4.10), just in fact as the horsemen scouts did in 1.10-11. In this case they emphasise that in the Branch God will fulfil His universal purpose, and that God will be watching over all His concerns. The eyes of YHWH on His people regularly indicates His supreme care for them and watch over them (Deuteronomy 11.12; Psalm 34.15; Ezra 5.5)

‘Behold I will engrave its engraving.’ This would then signify that its firm engraving was ‘holy to YHWH’ (see on 3.5). In this case God’s promise is that He Himself will personally make the Branch, of whom Joshua is a sign and symbol, ‘holy’ to Himself, set apart and treasured, for He Himself will engrave His own personal mark upon Him.

However, the word used for ‘eyes’ can also mean ‘fountains, springs’ (it is used in this way in the masculine in the Targums). Thus the thought may be of the opening of seven springs which will water the earth and produce the conditions described in verse 11. (Compare how the sevenfold lampstand will be prominent in the next chapter). Note accompanying this the possibility of the translation ‘I am opening its openings’. In mind may be the opening of the rock in the wilderness for water to pour forth, here fulfilled seven times over (Exodus 17.6; Numbers 20.8, 11). Later tradition linked these rocks with the Messiah (1 Corinthians 10.4). Compare in this regard the phrase below ‘and I will remove the iniquity of the land in one day’ which may possibly be combined with ‘the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness’ in 13.1, although a different word for fountain is used there. In that case the coming one will make it possible sevenfold for the iniquity of the land to be removed in one day.

‘And I will remove the iniquity of the land in one day.’ Either way the purifying of Joshua (3.4-5) is symbolic of a greater day when the iniquity of the land will be dealt with at a stroke. Then (as we now know, through the death of the chosen Messiah) a fountain will be opened for sin and uncleanness (13.1).

3.10 “In that day,” says YHWH of Hosts, “you will call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree.”

This is the typical representation of the age of deliverance to come. Every man will have his own vine and his own fig tree (1 Kings 4.25), and they will be neighbours to each other in behaviour as well as in fact. It is a representation of total freedom, of perfect harmony and of complete material independence, a picture to delight the heart of man. It would be depicted in the special love that His people would have for one another and come to its final realisation in the New Heaven and the New Earth in eternity.

The prophets invariably depict the final future in these material terms. They lived and preached among practical people who had no conception of ‘eternity’. They thought in terms of this life rather than an afterlife and so the future hope is set in these terms. But it is the ideas conveyed, not the outward trappings, which constitute the promise.

So the cleansing and investiture of Joshua for his present task is also to be seen as a sign of the One Who is to come to finally bring about God’s salvation for the world, the Fulfiller of God’s final purposes.

The Fifth Vision. The Living God Among His People - the Golden Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees (4.1-14).

It will have been noted that the work of the Messiah has been connected with the High Priest and not with Zerubbabel the Prince. Clearly the work of cleansing and atonement was seen as being closely connected with the priesthood (compare Isaiah 52.15). Now, however, for the purpose of ensuring the building of the Temple Zerubbabel comes to the fore. It is he who is the present prince of Judah and it is for this that he has been raised up. But it should be noted that he does it in close connection with the High Priest Joshua, for it is these two who are represented as ‘the sons of oil’.

4.1-2a ‘And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me as a man who is awoken from sleep. And he said to me, “What do you see?” ’

The idea here might be that Zechariah sees himself as being awoken to new truth. He had been ‘asleep’ and now he is ‘awake’. But more probably it indicates his awakening from his heavenly trance in which has been present at the heavenly court. Now he has been brought down to earth. We note that he is now restored to his old questioning self.

4.2b-3 ‘And I said, “I have seen, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with its bowl on top of it and its seven lamps on it. There are seven lips to each of the lamps which are on the top of it. And two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on the left side of it.” ’

The prophet sees a golden lampstand with seven lamps on it each of which has seven lips in which the wicks would be placed. This must be seen as representing the sevenfold lampstand in the tabernacle (Exodus 25.31-40) although it is very different in design. There is a greater intensification of seven indicating its divine perfection (for seven was seen as the number of divine perfection throughout the Near East).

Similar lampstands have been found at Ugarit, Dan, Gezer and Lachish. The ones at Ugarit had round bases with a bowl with seven spouts at the top.

In the tabernacle the lampstand was the representation of God as the light of Israel. No man, apart from ‘the Priest’ once a year, could enter the Holiest where God would sometimes reveal His presence in full glory. Thus the lampstand, sevenfold in its divine perfection, was the reflection of that glory.

Here in Zechariah the lampstand signifies the presence of the living God, and the all-knowingness of God (4.10). A man’s life was often called his ‘lamp’ (Job 21.17; Proverbs 20.20; 24.20 see also 2 Samuel 21.17; 1 Kings 11.36), and the lampstand, once removed, signified the death of the church (Revelation 2.5). So the lampstand represents life. In that case the lampstand here represents the living God, ‘the Lord of the whole earth’, fully present and fully aware. He is ‘the Light of the world’, but it is a light that must first be known in Israel.

So the sevenfold lampstand indicates that God is present with His people and is ready to show His power in a divinely perfect way. The two olive trees, rather than feeding the lampstand, are themselves fed by it (‘golden oil’ for the golden lamp - verse 12). The lampstand indicates the presence of God’s Spirit ready to act through the two ‘olive trees’ (4.6).

The olive trees in fact represent the two men who have been anointed with oil, the two ‘sons of oil’ (verse 14), the High Priest and the Governor who stand beside the lampstand in the light of the omniscience and living power of God, just as later we are told that the two ‘sons of oil’ stand by ‘the Lord of the whole earth’ (4.14).

This contradicts the common view that the lampstand represents God’s people as a witness fed by the olive trees, but that view is not borne out by the narrative and the applications actually given here. Here it is describing the Spirit as empowering Zerubbabel (verse 6). It is true that the seven lampstands in Revelation represent God’s witnesses (as the olive trees do here) but they have in the midst of them the glorious Son of Man as the lampstand is in the midst here. Then the church has become one with Him and is part of His revelation of Himself as the light of the world. But that is progressive. Here the golden lampstand, the living God, there the living Christ. Here the olive trees, the servants of God, there the lampstands. The final idea is similar.

4.4-5 ‘And I answered and spoke to the angel who talked with me, saying, “What are these my Lord?” Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No my lord.”

The prophet is puzzled by the vision and politely asks the angel for an explanation.

4.6 ‘Then he answered and spoke to me saying, “This is the word of YHWH to Zerubbabel saying, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says YHWH of Hosts.’

The vision is a message to Zerubbabel and indicates that the power of God’s Spirit is at work through him. He must recognise that what he is to accomplish will not be by human strength or authority, but by God’s divine activity.

We should note, however, that the oil is elsewhere a symbol of dedication, not strictly a symbol of the Spirit. Anointing is always a symbol of dedication to God. It will be because he and Joshua are fully dedicated and obedient that the Spirit will be able to enable them to do His work. Their testimony will especially be made through the building of YHWH’s house (verse 9).

4.7 ‘Who are you, oh great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain. And he will bring forth the headstone with shoutings of “Grace, grace to it.” ’

The task that lies before him is like a great mountain to climb, but because God is at work He will succeed. That mountain will become a flattened plain easy to walk over. The prophet is aware that the huge task of building the Temple will not be easy. It will require great resourcefulness and dedication, but it will be successfully accomplished and the headstone, which signifies near completion of the task, will be laid to great shouts celebrating the grace of God.

The passage reminds us that there is a sense in which God’s moving forward of His work is dependent on our willingness to be dedicated. Whatever the task may be, if we are not ready then He will not act. But once we respond fully and the time is ripe then nothing will prevent the fulfilment of His work.

4.8 ‘Moreover the word of YHWH came to me saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house. His hands will also finish it, and you will know that YHWH of Hosts has sent me to you.” ’

God gives His guarantee that what Zerubbabel is willing to commence God will bring to completion. Zerubbabel has acted in faith in relaying the foundations and now God will seal his faith with the finalisation of the work by his hand. This time nothing will be allowed to stop it. When that is done it will be evidence to all that the prophet was sent by YHWH.

But it important to note that while Zerubbabel will successfully build the Temple no other advances are connected with him. He is jointly responsible for a new beginning, but it is only a beginning. Whatever people’s messianic hopes may have been, they are not expressed here.

4.9 ‘For who has despised the day of small things? For they will rejoice and will see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel, even these seven who are the eyes of YHWH. They run to and fro through the whole earth.’

‘The day of small things.’ The beginnings may not seem very auspicious and may appear to be a small thing, but it would be a mistake to despise such a beginning. When the governor takes the plummet in his hand and lays the final headstone all will rejoice at the great success that has been achieved. But it is only the beginning. Greater things are yet to be. But we note that the seven eyes of YHWH rejoice in the plummet in Zerubbabel’s hand equally with the bringing forth of the Branch. For the humble work of the former will produce the sprouting of the latter.

And those who rejoice will not be just the earthly watchers, but ‘the seven who are the eyes of YHWH’ who cover the whole earth. This last may refer back to the scouts of chapter 1 who walked through the whole earth and saw that it was at rest. The idea behind seven is the divine perfection and completeness of the eyes. They are universal. And they will see the fulfilling of the triumphant purpose of God. (If they refer to the scouts, and if we want to be pedantic. this would then mean that beside the rider of the red horse there were two red horses, two sorrel horses and two white horses (1.8)). In our view the picture he gives full support to the rendering ‘eyes’.

However the number seven occurs in 3.9 and 4.2 referring to the facets on the stone in Joshua’s turban, specifically described as ‘seven eyes’ or ‘springs’, and the seven ‘lamps’ on the lampstand. This would seem also to indicate that the stone in Joshua’s turban and the seven lamps both indicate God’s omniscience and wide-ranging power and authority. It is because of these that both Joshua and Zerubbabel will be finally successful. Thus the seven eyes and the seven lamps symbolise the divine light and the divine life which reveal all and make it known. They indicate that nothing is hidden from the God Whom they serve.

4.11 ‘Then I answered and said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right side of the lampstand and on its left side?” And I answered the second time and said to him, “What are these two olive branches which are beside the two golden spouts (or pipes) that empty the golden oil out of themselves?” And he answered me and said, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No my lord.” Then he said, “These are the two sons of oil who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” ’

The interpretation often made here is that the olive trees feed the lamps. But this is based on certain unsupported assumptions that are made and must be questioned. It can equally mean that the two olive trees are fed by the lampstand. This is supported by the fact that what is transferred is ‘the golden’ (oil is assumed). It is the lampstand which is associated with gold not the olive trees. Thus the idea is that it is the Lord of the whole earth Who ‘anoints’ the olive trees who represent Joshua and Zerubbabel.

(It is actually no more incongruous to have the lampstand feeding the olive trees than to have a lampstand directly fed by olive trees. Olive oil does not flow from olive trees, it is obtained from the fruit of olives. And these were not golden olives!).

The Sixth Vision. The Flying Scroll - God’s Moral Demands Go Forth to Bring Judgment (5.1-4).

Together with the establishment of the High Priesthood and the building of the Temple, it is necessary for sin to be rooted out of the land. The purifying of the people must be made fact. And this occurs now as the curse which results from disobedience to the Law goes out among the people (compare Deuteronomy 30.7).

5.1-2 ‘Then again I lifted up my eyes and saw, and behold, a flying scroll. And he said to me, “What do you see?” And I answered, “I see a flying scroll twenty cubits long and ten cubits wide.” ’

A scroll of ten cubits wide is a phenomenon (a cubit is from elbow to finger tip). Its size indicates that its source is God, and that it is divinely effective. The fact that it is flying indicates that what is written in it is being enacted or is about to be enacted. Thus here we have a scroll from God going among the people.

5.3-4 ‘Then he said to me, “This is the curse that goes forth over the face of the whole land. For every one who steals will be purged out according to it on the one side, and everyone who swears (falsely) will be purged out according to it on the other side. ‘I will cause it to go forth’, the word of YHWH of Hosts, ‘and it will enter into the house of the thief, and into the house of him who swears falsely in my name, and it will remain in the midst of his house and will consume it with its timber and stones’.”

‘The curse’. The idea behind the word here is a curse resulting from obligation. It is used in Deuteronomy 30.7 where it is linked with the curses put on all those who do not obey God’s law. Its connection here with stealing and swearing falsely, two of the ten commandments, suggests that the idea is that God’s commands go forth as a curse on those who do not obey them. Indeed the idea of a curse on one or other of these types of dishonesty are found in Judges 17.2; 1 Kings 8.31-32; Job 31.29-30 compare Psalm 24.4-5.

It is possible that theft and dishonesty before the courts of justice were two of the major problems that had to be dealt with at this time if their society was to prosper. It is distinctive of God’s word that honesty in word and action is always treated as of prime importance. We can contrast this with lands and parts of society where the word of God does not prevail and dishonesty is a way of life.

So God tells Zechariah that theft and false swearing must be dealt with severely even to the breaking down of the houses of those who continue in them so that they will leave the place (a Persian form of punishment, compare Ezra 6.11). And the assurance is that even if justice cannot track down the perpetrators, God Himself will. Thus this is a stern warning to those on the land that these things must be put aside for they will no longer be treated lightly.

The Seventh Vision. The Woman in the Measuring Vessel - Idolatry to be Removed From the Land (5.5-11).

Not only must dishonesty and false witness be removed from the land, so also must all connections with idolatry and wickedness. In this vision Zechariah sees such things being removed to Babylon,

5.5-6 ‘Then the angel who talked with me went forth and said to me, “Lift up your eyes now and see, what is this that goes forth?” And I said, “What is it?” And he said, “This is the ephah that goes forth.” He said as well, “This is their eye in all the land.” ’

An ephah is a large unit of measurement (Leviticus 19.36) and became applied to the vessel of the correct size which contained an ephah (Leviticus 19.36; Deuteronomy 25.14). Here in Zechariah it is a measuring vessel with a lid. The ephah will be carried from the land to Shinar by two winged women (verses 9-11).

Note how the prophet constantly questions the angel. He wants us to know that he took care to ensure he had understood the visions correctly.

‘This is their eye’. The idea may be that this ephah is a testing measure which acts like an eye, testing out and measuring the behaviour of the people. It may be the eye of heavenly beings (compare 4.10) or the eye of the judicial authorities who represent the people. Or it may represent the idea of what is seen, and therefore of all seeing it.

The Septuagint translates ‘eye’ as ‘iniquity’. This may well rather be an interpretation although it may result from a different Hebrew reading. In that case we would see the ephah as the measure of wickedness (verse 8). In both cases the idea is of behaviour measured and judgment carried out.

5.7-8 ‘And behold there was lifted up a talent of lead, and this is a woman sitting in the midst of the ephah. And he said, “This is wickedness.” And he thrust her down in the midst of the ephah and he put the weight of lead on its mouth.’

The ‘talent of lead’ is a lid made of lead of that weight. When the lid is lifted up a woman is found to be inside. The angel describes her as representing ‘wickedness’. And he pushes her down to make sure she does not escape, and closes the lid firmly. The heavy weight of the lid suggests that the woman is eager to break free and must be firmly held. It possibly indicates that the power of God is keeping her in place.

‘This is wickedness.’ Women are often seen as representing evil, especially when related to idolatry. We can compare the ‘scarlet woman’ in Revelation 17. This may have been partly perhaps because of the failure of Eve (Genesis 3), partly because they are seen as being a temptation to man, but far more because idolatry was powerfully connected with goddesses and accompanying sexual depravity. A connection may also be seen with the way in which Jezebel was infamous as introducing the idolatrous worship of Baal Melkart to Israel. Goddesses were typical of idolatrous religion and acted as a snare to men, for so much of idolatrous religion was based on sex. This comes out in that Hebrew had no word for goddess. The idea was repugnant to them.

The picture would seem to represent the fact that measurement is being made, judgment is being carried out and the wickedness and idolatry thus discovered is contained in the ephah. Idolatry was not strictly a problem with the returnees themselves. But the inhabitants of the land partook in a syncretistic form of Yahwism which included idolatry, into which some could easily be attracted, and as Malachi will bring out a hundred years later there were women in the land who worshipped foreign gods and were attractive to the returnees because they held land rights. Thus it was necessary for YHWH to bring out that all who partake in such must recognise that they are thereby renewing their connection with Babylon, and might expect to be exiled there again.

Some, however, see the woman in the ephah as representing greed and a seeking after wealth which represented the spirit of Babylon and caused them to break or manipulate the covenant.

5.9-11 ‘Then I lifted up my eyes and saw, and behold there came forth two women, and the wind was in their wings. Now they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heaven. Then I said to the angel who talked with me, “Where are they bearing the ephah?” And he said to me, “To build her a house in the land of Shinar. And when it is prepared she will be set there in her own place”.’

The idea behind this picture would seem to be of the removal of idolatry from the land. Stealing and swearing falsely have already been dealt with. Now idolatry, and all connected with it, is also dealt with, including divination and the use of magical objects (10.2). It must be removed from the land and returned where it belongs, to Babylon. Babylon is always seen as the epitome of idolatry, the representation of all that is bad.

The two women. The description of them as women together with the woman in the ephah prevents us from seeing these as angels. They would appear to be all part of the same idea, that of idolatry, or at least of uncleanness. The stork was an unclean bird - Leviticus 11.19; Deuteronomy 14.18. Thus the emphasis may have been of uncleanness. Women necessarily spent much time as unclean due to menstruation.

Some have seen in this a deliberate caricature of Ezekiel 1. Just as YHWH rode in majesty on the Cherubim to the River Chebar, so now this imprisoned goddess is borne to Babylon.

‘To build her a house.’ That is, a Temple. There she is to be installed well away from the land of Judah. She is now in ‘her own place’. There is no place for her in the land where the Temple of YHWH is being built. This may indicate that the woman may have the Queen of Heaven in mind who was falsely worshipped before the Exile (Jeremiah 44.17-19)

‘The land of Shinar.’ Babylon - see Genesis 10.10; 11.2; Isaiah 11.11; Daniel 1.2.

The idea is that any connections with idolatry and its practises are to be removed once and for all so that when the Jerusalem Temple is built it may be completely free from the idolatrous connections which had destroyed the old Temple. The people of God and idolatry have nothing to do with each other. There must be no compromise. All must be tested out and any idolatrous connections expelled.

It must be recognised that idolatry is not just seen as a separate sin from others. Idolatry is abhorred by God because it demonstrates that man’s heart is firmly fixed on the flesh rather than the Spirit. Thus it is tied up with sexual depravity, carnal longings, seeking the future through occult practises, love of the world, its pleasures and its wealth, and commitment to what is ‘natural’ rather than spiritual. The natural man does not discern the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him (1 Corinthians 2.14). See Paul’s vivid description of idolatry and its results in Romans 1.18-32. Many modern persons would not look on themselves as idolaters, but their behaviour proves that they worship ‘Mammon’ or ‘nature’ with their offer of things of the flesh and nature’s invasion into the occult.

The Eighth Vision. The Four Chariots - the Four Winds of Heaven - and Their Activity on Earth (6.1-8).

Whereas in chapter 1 the horsemen were scouts going out to see if any activity was going on in the earth, chariots would suggest something more serious. These chariots are coming forth to do God’s will and purpose. Jerusalem, the High Priest and the Temple having been restored, and sin and idolatry having been removed from the land, God will now establish His people in security and peace. They do not want any more invasions from the north.

6.1-3 ‘And again I lifted up my eyes and saw, and behold there came four chariots out from between two mountains, and the mountains were mountains of brass. In the first chariot were red horses, and in the second chariot black horses, and in the third chariot white horses and in the fourth chariot speckled bay horses.’

It is possible that the mountains of brass represent something similar to the pillars of brass in the Temple of Solomon (1 Kings 7.15) which had been carried off to Babylon (2 Kings 25.13). Then the thought would be of the chariots, which represent the four winds of heaven who stand before the Lord of the whole earth (verse 5), coming out from God’s own heavenly Temple (compare Ezekiel 40-48).

Alternately brass is seen as a strong metal, often paralleled with iron (Job 40.18; 41.27; Psalm 107.16; Isaiah 45.2; 48.4; Daniel 7.19), ‘gates of brass’ representing a formidable obstacle to freedom (Psalm 107.16; Isaiah 45.2). Thus the mountains of brass would then be symbols of the strength and power of heaven.

The word translated ‘bay’ has the root meaning of ‘strong’, but a colour would seem to be required here. No special significance appears to be given to the colours of the horses.

6.4-5 ‘Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” And the angel answered and said to me, “These are the four winds (or spirits) of heaven who go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth.”

It is clear from this that the chariots, following the horses which have scouted out the earth, have now come out to carry out the will of Yahweh. They represent heavenly forces and will carry out His will on earth. They come from standing before the Lord of the whole earth.

‘The four winds of heaven.’ These are often used to describe divine activity. In Ezekiel they are life-giving (37.9). In Jeremiah they scatter Elam in judgment (49.36). In Daniel 7.2 they rouse the nations to fulfil their destiny. In Daniel 8.8; 11.4; Zechariah 2.6 they are used indirectly to describe a wideness of activity.

6.6-8 ‘The chariot wherein are the black horses goes forth towards the North country, and the white went forth after them. And the speckled went forth towards the South country. And the bay went forth and sought to go that they might walk to and fro through the earth. And he said, “Get you hence, walk to and fro through the earth.” So they walked to and fro through the earth. Then he cried on me and spoke to me saying, “Look, those that go towards the North country have quieted my spirit in the North country.’

We learn here that we must beware of thinking of the four winds as directly representing the four points of the compass. They represent rather God as active towards the earth. In this case both the black and white horsed chariots go towards the North, towards Babylon and its neighbours, where God’s people are scattered and where the nations hold them in subjection. The white and black may indicate that they were to deal with the wuaestion of idolatry (false white - Revelation 6.2) and wickedness (compare 5.5-11). Possibly they are to check on the safe arrival of the woman in the Ephah. God is now as it were combining His forces on behalf of His people. That He is successful comes out in that their activity ‘quietens His spirit’. Thus now, and later under Nehemiah, the return of His people (or the remnant of them) will continue and prosper.

No mention is made of the red-horsed chariot (which may represent general warfare - Revelation 6.5) for its activity is irrelevant to the matter on hand, but it reminds us that God is also active elsewhere, while the speckled bay-horsed chariot (which may represent different forms of death dealing - Revelation 6.8) goes towards the South and then patrols the whole earth as the threefold stress on ‘walk to and fro’ emphasises. So here God is seen as acting universally while also concentrating efforts on behalf of His people. It may also include the thought that God is stirring up His people wherever they are to return to Jerusalem, the centre of His promises.

(To Israel and Judah world-activity was always North or South for that is where the invading nations came from. To the West was the sea and the coast was useless for large ships, and to the East was the desert).

In spite of what is said above it is questionable whether we are to see any significance in the colours of the horses which vary from the vision in chapter 1. Black is sometimes the colour of mourning (Jeremiah 8.21; 14.2) or of suffering (Nahum 2.10) and white of purity and heavenliness, or of false religion, and it may be that we are to see God’s activity as producing contrasting results, mourning for some (the nations) and joy for others (the returning remnant) but if so it is left to be inferred.

(Note. ‘Four’ probably represents universality in terms of before and behind and to each side. In that sense it is connected with the four points of the compass. But the former is the prevalent idea behind its use, not the latter).

The Crowning of Joshua as Proxy for the Branch - Witnessed by the Returning Exiles as an Encouragement for Others to Return (6.9-15).

The acting out of the future was a regular prophetic method (Isaiah 20.2-4; Jeremiah 27.2-7; Ezekiel 12.1-12) and it was regularly accompanied by oracles. It would seem that that was what Zechariah is doing here as he portrays what is to happen in the future.

6.9 ‘And the word of YHWH came to me saying, “Take of those of the captivity, even of Heldai, of Tobijah and of Jedaiah, and you come the same day and go into the house of Josiah the son of Zephaniah, to where they are come from Babylon.’

The house of Josiah would seem to have been a gathering place for returning exiles. Zechariah is exhorted to gather together the recently returned exiles (the families of Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah) along with Josiah and himself for the purpose of the crowning of Joshua the High Priest on their behalf. They are to act on behalf of all exiles from Israel and Judah everywhere.

6.10-12 ‘Yes, take of them silver and gold, and make crowns and set them on the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the High Priest, and speak to him saying, “Thus says Yahweh of Hosts, saying ‘Behold the man whose name is the Branch and he will shoot up out of his place and he will build the Temple of YHWH. Even he will build the Temple of YHWH, and he will bear the glory and will sit and rule on his throne, and he will be (or there will be) a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace will be between them both.’

The exiles are to provide silver and gold for the making of a crown or crowns, which are then, after the crowning of Joshua, to be kept in the Temple as a memorial, a continual reminder, for them (verse 14). This gives the whole event a symbolic significance.

In 3.8 the God gave His promise that He would bring forth His servant the Branch, and as we saw the Messianic king was in mind there. Zerubbabel was already at that time governor, and could not therefore be ‘brought forth’ and it is not he who is crowned here. (To crown the governor could well have been seen as treason). Thus the Branch is not Zerubbabel. And in 3.8-9 Joshua and his fellow priests were a sign of the coming of the Branch. Thus the Branch is not Joshua. This demonstrates that when Joshua is crowned here with the words ‘behold the man whose name is the Branch’ he is being crowned symbolically in the name of another.

As the returned exiles watch the crowning of Joshua they are seeing before their eyes an acting out of the scene when the Messianic king, the Branch from the house of David, from the root of Jesse, would appear. The crowning and the crowns are signs and guarantees of His coming. He par excellence will build the true Temple of YHWH, and will be a bearer of God’s true glory and will establish His rule. He will be both king and priest, for in Him the two functions will be united. ‘The counsel of peace will be between them both.’

Thus the eyes of the returned exiles are turned towards the coming of the Messianic king as an encouragement both to them and to their fellows still in exile of the certainty of His promises and the guarantee of their fulfilment. And in view of the fact that the building of the Temple is to be a Messianic act this is to encourage them in assisting in the building of the Temple, not for its own sake, but as a precursor to the coming of the Messiah. No one could conceive in that day that the Messiah’s ‘Temple of YHWH’ and ‘the Holy City’ would be His people (1 Corinthians 3.16; Revelation 21) and His body (John 2.19, 21).

Zechariah’s prophecies reach beyond the building of the Temple to the significance of that building as a precursor to the Messianic age. In the end it is that that he has in view.

6.14 ‘And the crowns shall be to Helem, and to Tobijah and to the favoured one (or Hen), the son of Zephaniah, for a memorial in the Temple of YHWH.’

The crowns were made from the gifts of these men (6.10-11) and are retained by them within the Temple as a remembrance of this moment and of the promises now made, as an encouragement to urge the exiles to return home and to establish God’s new rule in Judah.

‘The favoured one’. The Hebrew is ‘Hen, ‘for grace’, or ‘favour’, and replaces the name of Josiah given earlier (verse 9). The idea would appear to be that this man who does so much for returning exiles is looked on with favour by God.

6.15a ‘And they that are far off shall come and build in the Temple of Yahweh, and you will know that YHWH of Hosts has sent me to you.’

The result of Zechariah’s prophecies, and of this prophetic act in the crowning of Joshua as a proxy for the Messianic king, will be the return of many exiles and the establishment of the purposes of YHWH in the building of the Temple with all that that means in terms of the future of Israel and Judah. Thus will his prophecies be seen to come from YHWH Who has sent him.

6.15b ‘And this will come about if you will diligently obey the voice of YHWH your God.’

‘This will come about.’ The promise is a firm one. But as ever obedience is required if God is to act.

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