'...My house shall be built in [Jerusalem]...'
'...the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem'
'...My cities shall again overflow with prosperity...'
'...the Lord will again comfort Zion...'
'...the Lord will again choose Jerusalem'
Zech 1:7 begins a passage which continues through to 6:15 uninterrupted and it is difficult to accept that these visions were not given at one and the same time - that is,
‘On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month...in the second year of Darius...’
which corresponds to our date of 15th February 519BC. Zech 7:1 yields a date of 7th December 518BC, some one year and ten months later. There are no indications that we should take these as being delivered over this 22 month period even though, to us, it seems better that there should be some division and development of the revelation given to the Israelites.
Even so, Baldwin states that
‘These oracles...are probably summaries of relevant sermons given by Zechariah on different occasions...’
but the only justification she has for this statement is an appeal to a comparison of 1:14-17 with 8:1-8 which is hardly conclusive. It is best that we take 1:7-6:15 as one unit and, at the very least, should accept that, as Baldwin says, they
‘...are meant to be interpreted as one whole, for each contributes to the total picture of the role of Israel in the new era about to dawn’
Furthermore, there appears to be some sort of structure to the series of visions, something that would not be apparent if they were delivered on different days stretched over a long period of time. Baldwin states that the eight visions (1:7-17, 1:18-21, 2:1-13, 3:1-10, 4:1-14, 5:1-4, 5:5-11 and 6:1-15) follow
‘...a chiastic pattern. The first and last bear a strong resemblance to one another, the second and third, sixth and seventh are pairs, and the fourth and fifth, with their assurance of God-given authoritative leaders, form the climax’
which should be ample reason to see that the obvious intention of the recorder of these visions is to present them as they come across - namely, that Zechariah received them all during one night on ‘the fourth day of the ninth month’ in the fourth year of Darius (7:1).
It has been around three or four months since Zechariah has last spoken to the nation of Israel (Cp 1:1 with 1:7 - see the date list in the ‘Introduction’ to the Book of Zechariah) though we cannot be precise as to the exact period of time as Zechariah wasn’t specific as to which date the first message was given on.
In that first message, God had called the nation to return to Himself (1:3) by reminding them that their fathers had failed to heed the warning prophecies of the former prophets and so had been exiled to Babylon from which they had returned some 17 years previously.
Haggai has already finished prophesying to the nation (Hag 2:10 - the last date noted is almost exactly two months before this series of visions given to the people through Zechariah) - or perhaps it is better to say that Haggai has stopped recording his visions, having no evidence to suggest that God had finished with His servant.
There is significance in Zechariah’s first prophecy (1:1-6) which is answered in this first vision. In his former utterance, God exhorted the people to return to Himself in order that He might return to the nation, presumably upon the completion of the Temple when the Divine Presence would have been expected to take up residence within the Holy of Holies at the very centre of Israel’s religious sacrificial system.
Here, in the first vision, God makes it plain (1:16) that He has
‘...returned to Jerusalem with compassion...’
That is to say, it appears as if the Word of God had met with a fitting response in its hearers and that the nation had chosen to turn back to their God. Even though the natural interpretation of 1:3 pointed us in the direction of a fulfilment of the promise upon the Temple’s completion, it’s as if God just can’t wait to be once more resident in the midst of His people - it will be a further three years before the Temple is to be completed (Ezra 6:15) but God is not content to wait. He has purposed to live amongst them whether a structure has been completed for Him or not.
[In subsequent visons and prophecies, the prophet Zechariah speaks with words such as ‘I will dwell in the midst of you...’ (2:10, 2:11) and ‘...I will be the glory within her’ (2:5) which implies that the Lord has not yet returned and that His re-entry will be some time in the future. But the Lord can both be in the city working alongside them and waiting to come in to the city to be more to the returnees than they have yet known. Therefore, though God must be envisaged as being resident within the city now, even though there are promises yet to be fulfilled which demand that the Lord speak to the nation in terms of His presence being re-established within them.
God’s returning to Jerusalem here is ‘with compassion’ - in other contexts it will be ‘with protection’ and various other concepts set within the framework of differing visions]
The words served as an encouragement to the nation and more so if we view them as being given between the time that the letter was being written and sent to Darius the king (Ezra 5:6) and the date of its return and implementation (Ezra 6:13).
The text simply says (Ezra 5:3) that
‘At the same time [as the Israelites began rebuilding the Temple] Tattenai...and Shetharbozenai and their associates came to them...’
after which the letter would have needed to have been composed and despatched to Darius who appears to have been in Babylon at a travelling distance of some 700 miles by the normal route (Ezra 5:17), whereupon search would have to have been made in the royal records in Ecbatana around 300 miles as the crow flies from Babylon in the hills of the Median kingdom (Ezra 6:2) before the reply would have been composed and despatched on its return journey of another 700 miles.
It was indeed provident, therefore, that the Lord undertook for them that the governor of the province ‘Beyond the River’ (Ezra 5:5)
‘...did not stop them till a report should reach Darius and then answer be returned by letter concerning it’
These prophetic visions, therefore, which run from 1:7 through to the closing of the sixth chapter occur around five months after the Israelites had begun to rebuild the Temple but in the midst of the expected arrival of a reply from Darius when an unfavourable response would have been accompanied with a militarily enforced show of strength to compel the residents to desist in their efforts.
It is in this context, therefore, that the words of God that He has returned to dwell within the nation and (1:16 - see also 4:7-9) that
‘...My house shall be built in [Jerusalem]...’
are specifically relevant.
They have no need to fear what response may be received from Darius because God has already purposed that the Temple will not be opposed and, besides, as God will go on to show Zechariah, Jerusalem shall also be reinhabited and rebuilt (Zech 1:16, 2:4 - though it remained fairly sparsely populated until at least the time of Nehemiah - see Neh 7:4 - some eighty years away), the nations who fought against Jerusalem shall be judged for their own wickedness (Zech 1:15, 2:9, 6:8 - though Babylon is especially singled out as the prime mover) and the Lord will bring His servant, the Branch (a title given to the Son of David who was to come to restore all things to the nation - see Jer 23:5, 33:14-16) into the midst of the nation (Zech 3:8, 6:12-13).
Though they may fear the response, God is in control.
Finally, the assumed repentance (see above) which has occurred between the first prophecy and this series of visions points us towards seeing that repentance leads God’s people into vision. Had the people not committed themselves to make a break with the past in which their fathers had turned their backs upon the Lord, His prophets and His Word (Zech 1:3-4), they would likely never have received this series of visions which strengthened them in their service before God.
Repentance, then, leads a people to understand more about the ways and workings of God through an outpouring of more revelation than they could ever have received had they stayed in their unrepentant state. When a people are faithful in even a little, the Lord puts that people over much (Mtw 25:23), but they who deal wrongly with the little they’ve been given find that even what they thought they had is taken away from them (Mtw 25:29).
At the risk of sounding too simplistic, the vision given to Zechariah appears to be straight-forward.
The Lord’s angelic patrol is bringing back a report concerning the state of the nations beyond Israel’s borders to which they’ve been sent (1:10). Commentators attempt to fix the location of the ‘glen’ (RSV - which, to me, only gives the impression that some Scottish valley full of heather and Angus cattle is intended! Not the intended picture, obviously...) to somewhere to the south or west of the city of Jerusalem. Baldwin, therefore, sees the word as meaning
‘...the lowest part of the Kidron valley outside Jerusalem...’
but her interpretation that it shows that the Lord
‘...had not yet entered [the city] because the Temple had not yet been completed’
is refuted later on in the vision by 1:16. Smith’s suggestion is better which cites DR Jones as suggesting that the location of the myrtle trees (1:8) was probably
‘...in the forecourt of the temple area...’
another suggestion which springs more from a desire to see something in the vision than what is actually there. JFB sees the mention of myrtle trees as being indicative of the ‘Jewish Church’ but there are no other Scriptures upon which this interpretation can be based even though it is not impossible and it would add to the significance of the vision.
The myrtle may also be a tree that naturally flourishes in damper or wet areas (Baldwin - ‘...fragrant evergreen shrubs that grow well in Palestine, especially beside streams’) though it depends which variety of myrtle is here being referred to - this would then fit in well with an interpretation which sees the ‘glen’ as being the side of a brook somewhere near or around Jerusalem.
Both the myrtle trees and the ‘glen’ (Strongs Hebrew number 4699 - the only place in the OT where this word is actually used. Strongs sees the word as coming from a root meaning ‘shade’ whereas TWOTOT notes that the meaning is difficult to determine but opts for ‘basin’ or ‘hollow’) add to the setting of the scene but they don’t appear to add any major meaning to the vision which is more about the report of the Lord’s patrol which has returned from its mission to observe the nations (1:11) and the Lord’s response to the angel’s question regarding the welfare of the city of Jerusalem (1:12-17).
If Zechariah was resident outside Jerusalem (as indeed a lot of the people appear to have been - Neh 7:4 Cp Ezra 3:1, Hag 1:4), the location is possibly the place that Zechariah was dwelling or, perhaps better, the location that was known to the Israelites simply as ‘the hollow’ (the ‘glen’) and that the ‘myrtle trees’ would immediately signify the specific area in which Zechariah was witnessing the events taking place even though he need not have been there - the ‘vision’ is what is brought to him and need not be located in the place where the prophet currently is.
The one positive thing that can be said about the situation of the vision is thank goodness it didn’t happen after the third century AD when the church would almost certainly have erected some sort of shrine on the spot (or cathedral) and come to worship there!
The vision hinges around the statement of the returning patrol (1:11) that
‘...all the earth remains at rest’
an announcement which immediately comes across to us in a positive fashion - but this is far from the truth. Shortly, the Lord will speak through His angel and declare (1:15) that He is
‘...very angry with the nations that are at ease...’
This ‘ease’ (Strongs Hebrew number 8252), therefore, is not a positive attribute that the nations can be commended for as we would expect if ‘the sabbath rest of God’ is being inferred (Heb 4:9) but a negative one where ‘prosperous ease’ (Ezek 16:49 where the same word is being linked to the failure of an area to care for the poor and needy when it was wealthy and had a surfeit of provision) is being conveyed, a neglect and unconcern for both the work and people of God in Jerusalem.
The same attitude is displayed in the prophecy concerning the Samarians (Amos 4:1-3) where the women of the area were more concerned with their own interests and prosperity that the Lord swore to deal with them in judgment, being unconcerned for the plight of the needy. This was more than simply neglect and became the active oppression of those in the society of their day who had little defence against them.
Just as the Samarian women lived a life of ease and were unconcerned about the welfare of the poor and needy in their midst, so too are the nations prosperously at ease and find their condemnation from the Lord for their attitude of heart (see also Amos 6:1-3 and Ps 123:4 which both portray a similar concept even though a different Hebrew word is being employed).
Obadiah speaks similar words to the nation of Edom in the book of the same name. The opening verses speak of the coming judgment upon the nation (which lay on Israel and Judah’s eastern flank) which so rejoiced in the downfall of the Jews that they actively pursued the escapees to both kill and to deliver them into the hands of their oppressors.
A lengthy quote from the book is worthwhile here seeing as it will serve as a reminder to us also not to rejoice in the misfortunes of our brothers in Christ and not to actively make disaster worse by our attitudes and actions. Obad 12-14 reads
‘...you should not have gloated over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune;
you should not have rejoiced over the people of Judah in the day of their ruin;
you should not have boasted in the day of distress.
You should not have entered the gate of My people in the day of His calamity;
you should not have gloated over his disaster in the day of his calamity;
you should not have looted his goods in the day of his calamity.
You should not have stood at the parting of the ways to cut off his fugitives;
you should not have delivered up his survivors in the day of distress’
Because of similar attitudes amongst the nations that lie round about Israel and who know of their plight, the Lord proclaims to Zechariah (1:15) that He is
‘...very angry with the nations...’
because, although God had moved against His people to judge their sin by using those nations as His instrument of judgment (1:15)
‘...they furthered the disaster’
That is, they went far beyond the bounds that God had placed around the judgment that His people were to experience.
This anger of the Lord directed against them will be outworked in subsequent visions as the night unfolds (beginning immediately in the next vision of the four horns) but, here, God’s intention is to speak His intentions concerning His city Jerusalem which, as we’ve previously seen, was awaiting the arrival of a letter from King Darius which could ultimately decide the fate of the building project that they had undertaken as a direct response to the Word of God through Haggai the prophet (Haggai chapter 1).
Both God’s jealousy for Jerusalem and Zion (1:14) and His anger toward the nations (1:15) are resultant outworkings of the Love of God for His people.
Though the nations are ‘resting’, God is very much on the move to restore His covenant with His people. They have already responded positively to His call for a determination to set their faces to obey the Word of God delivered to them (see above) and He therefore responds to them with a five-fold purpose in addition to His proclamation that He has already chosen to return to Jerusalem before the Temple has been completed (1:16 - on which, see above).
These five promises are:
a. ‘...My house shall be built in [Jerusalem]...’
This promise will be repeated in 4:9 though there the promise is more personal in nature seeing as it’s directed towards Zerubbabel and God’s assurance that it will be finished within his lifetime and while he is still capable of performing building duties.
In the context of the imminent arrival of a decree from Darius in Babylon which could hinder the work of the Israelites, this declaration is a reassurance that the king’s response will turn out favourably. Indeed, it turned out that, far from a simple instruction being given that the building work was not to be hindered, the king made a generous provision that the funding of the rebuilding should be taken out of the royal tribute that was to be collected in the province ‘Beyond the River’ (Ezra 6:8).
Moreover, the king is anxious to have sacrifice offered to the Jews’ God and also makes provision that such sacrifices should be given to them to secure Divine protection for the dynasty of the king (Ezra 6:9-10) and, as if that wasn’t enough, the governors of the king’s province are to make sure that no person is to oppose the work on pain of death (Ezra 6:11).
That’s some decree - seeing as the best the returned exiles would have been expecting was an unhindered opportunity to finish the Temple with their own meagre resources!
But this is still a while off.
The effect that the word would have had upon the builders would be to encourage them not to lose heart and be anxious about whether their efforts would be thwarted. A people who see hindrances to the work that they’re undertaking which could consume all that they are hoping to achieve, need the reassurance that they will certainly see the fruit of their labours and that nothing will in any way hinder the work from being completed.
In the context of their situation, this promise was vitally important.
b. ‘...the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem’
This implies that the rebuilding of the city will take place and will be fulfilled even though the exiles are primarily concerned with the construction of the Temple above that of the city.
In an incident in Ezra 4:7-23, we learn of opposition which seriously hindered the work of rebuilding the city and we should note that this passage is a parenthesis within Ezra and that, chronologically, it occurred sometime after the completion of the Temple but seemingly before Nehemiah felt compelled to ask the king (Neh 2:1 - the same Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:7) in the twentieth year of his reign (he ruled from 464-423BC according to Kidner) to reverse his previous decree and order a rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem (Neh 2:1-8) - hence Nehemiah’s astute awareness of the danger to himself in what he was asking the king to do.
Even though there will be future opposition to the rebuilding of the city, God here reveals to his servants that it will indeed be constructed and later states the result of that future expansion of Jerusalem in 2:4 where the growth of the city will be so drastic that it will expand beyond its old city walls which, at the time of Zechariah’s vision, still lay in ruins. These two verses do, however, imply different concepts. Here, the idea is that Jerusalem will be marked out to prepare it for rebuilding whereas, in 2:4, the measuring line is stretched out over Jerusalem not to prepare it but to calculate the extent of its expansion.
It was up to Nehemiah to rebuild these walls to give the city some sort of protection against the inhabitants round about who continually plundered the city (Neh 1:3, 2:3, 2:17, 6:15) and which had to be completed first before any large scale construction of property within could be considered (Neh 7:4, 11:1-2).
c. ‘...My cities shall again overflow with prosperity...’
The first two promises were unique to Israel’s experience - they had never before had to either rebuild the Temple or the city of Jerusalem when it was in their possession, so the word ‘again’ is not used of God’s promises.
But here, and in the following two statements, ‘again’ is used as a reminder to the Israelites that what God is going to give them is only a restoration of what they already had at one time before the exile some seventy years previous (Zech 1:12 - see below for a brief explanation of this term which is an integral part of the prophecy).
The verse actually begins with the same ‘again’ but this need not concern us - Zechariah has already been told to ‘Cry out’ (1:14) and it is logical that, when something new is being told him that he is told to ‘Cry again’ (1:17). There is no point in having the blessings of a restored Temple and rebuilt city (1:16) if God is not going to restore His people’s fortunes as well and so He goes on here to outline His purposes regarding the returned nation.
God here declares not just that the city of Jerusalem will become prosperous but that ‘the cities’ will overflow in their prosperity out into the areas of the world. As Baldwin notes
‘The basic idea expressed by the verb [overflow] is that of an irresistible force working centrifugally, like a cyclone or anticyclone, for good or ill’
This appears to be the interpretation in such a passage as Prov 5:16 even though there the context is a warning not to scatter one’s sexual favours throughout the society in which one lives but to stay faithful to one’s wife.
It is not simply that Jerusalem and the neighbouring Jewish cities shall become prosperous (a point reiterated previously in Haggai’s prophecy in Hag 2:15-19) but that they shall become a blessing to the nations just as it was said of Abraham (Gen 18:18 - alternative reading, see RSV’s margin) that, in him,
‘...all the nations of the earth shall be blessed’
and as it will be said of Jerusalem later on in Zechariah when the Lord comes to set up His Kingdom throughout the earth centred in Jerusalem (14:8) that
‘...living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem...’
flowing out both east and west and continually throughout all times of the year.
d. ‘...the Lord will again comfort Zion...’
In all their difficulties (and following God has its own set of difficulties that those who follow their own ways can never even begin to imagine!), God will be their protector and sustainer, the One who will (Is 51:3)
‘...comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places, and make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song’
e. ‘...the Lord will...again choose Jerusalem’
Probably the most important of all the five promises even though it appears to throw up the immediate question as to what God has chosen them for.
God had sent His people away out of the land He’d promised to give to their fathers through the exile and the question, therefore, must have remained in the people’s hearts ‘Has the Lord rejected us forever?’
This reassurance settles the question - God indeed loves His people and has ‘re’ chosen them as His own special possession amidst all the other nations of the earth (Ex 19:5).
In these five promises, therefore, God’s restoration of His people is assured. He will make sure that both the Temple and the city are rebuilt (even though it is only the former that concerns the project currently under way) and He will once again increase their resources, strengthen them in weakness and select the nation for a purpose that only they can fulfil - a purpose which will cause the nations of the world to find blessing in them (that is, through that One Jew who will come to reconcile the world to God in Himself and, through the Jews, to scatter abroad the knowledge of God into the world.
If ‘seventy years’ was meant to have been a literal time of 840 calendar months, then the Lord would have had no need to let Zechariah hear the angel ask Him concerning God’s judgment of the previous seventy years (Zech 1:12) as the people could have computed the time for themselves and come to anticipate the Lord moving after the time was up. But, as is often the case, a time period is indicative of a period which, although corresponding to a general length of time, is not to be taken literally.
The ‘seventy year period’ proclaimed by the prophets as being the time decided by the Lord to pay for the nation’s sin in exile away from their land (Jer 25:11-12, Daniel 9:2) and to give the land its sabbath rest that it had missed during Israel’s rebellion to the demands of the Mosaic Law (II Chr 36:20-21) has been variously calculated and, indeed, can be made to fit the dates that we have of specific occasions in the life of Judah when certain dates are selected above others.
For instance, the end date could be variously interpreted as being the proclamation of the permission to return by Cyrus (538BC), the return of the first wave of exiles under Zerubbabel (537), the commencement of the Temple (536), the recommencement of the Temple through the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah (520), the completion of the Temple (516), or even the completion of the walls of the city of Jerusalem under Nehemiah (445).
But it appears that the phrase ‘seventy years’ was a time period that was indicative of a lifetime (as opposed to ‘forty years’ which was indicative of a generation) in the civilisations of the days of Zechariah. Therefore, Smith cites Lipinski who detailed
‘...an inscription on the black stone of Esarhaddon (681-669BC) that the god Marduk should have been angry with his land until “seventy years had been accomplished”. But in fact Marduk had mercy on Babylon and restored her after eleven years. Lipinski’s conclusion was that seventy years constituted a period of divine anger against a city or sanctuary...’
Tyre, similarly to Jerusalem, was also to be judged by God for a period of ‘seventy years’ after which time she was to be restored only to return to her former ways, after which her abundant prosperity would be given over to the people of the Lord (Is 23:15-18).
Even though the seventy years may have been literally fulfilled - and we shouldn’t reject this possibility because we find it hard to conceive that God should give exact dates in His dealings with mankind - it is more likely that a period of about seventy years is meant in which time the land was to enjoy its sabbaths and the Israelites to experience captivity as a direct result of their sins before the Lord.
GO TO ZECHARIAH PAGE