Zechariah comes from about the same time and place as Haggai – though like all of the Twelve, it has been edited and interpreted ever since. Addressing the key officials of the Persian empire, the governor and the high priest of Judah and Jerusalem, Zechariah is finding words for the cognitive dissonance between the grand claims of the offices, and the economic and political reality of a remnant people still clients of empire.
‘Jerusalem is open for business’, as our politicians would put it. This is not yet, and may never be, a new kingdom of David and Solomon, ruling the territories that Joshua claimed for twelve tribes. Future orientation is expressed in a vision of an idealized future. People are streaming home in the vision
The visionary shares a Persian cosmology inhabiting the heavens differently than in Torah’s monotheism, and preparing for later apocalyptic literature from Daniel and Ezekiel to Christian gospels and Revelation.
There’s an angel talking to Zechariah in this vision, not the earlier angels of the Elohist tradition, but a full-fledged creature of the heavens, one of many messengers. As I too often say: something transpersonal, bigger than me and smaller than God, part of a fully enchanted world with seven heavens populated by many entities, yet all part of God’s creation. There’s a man among the myrtle trees in the glen with the horses – visitors from those heavenly hosts.
Today we get 4 horses, each a different colour, patrolling the earth. God was angry, but Babylon over-reached and God will chastise empires, and protect the remnant of Israel. Next we get a measuring line, reminding us of Amos, centuries before, with a plumb line. It’s time to measure out what is now to be built. Then we get the horns that scattered the exiles, and four blacksmiths come to discipline those horns so that they cannot again scatter us.
Her is a world of interpretation for which Dan Brown gleefully coined the word ‘symbology’ so that he could include an academic in his DaVinci Code. I can’t deny that these signifiers are tougher to read, and belong in an eschatological ultimate framework and are necessary for apocalyptic talk. I can deny that they should be reduced to predictions for scavenger hunters or journalistic heroes investigating the lies of our religious tradition!
Zechariah 1 (NRSV)
1 In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo, saying:
2The LORD was very angry with your ancestors
3Therefore say to them, Thus says the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts .
4Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the former prophets proclaimed, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or heed me, says the LORD.
5Your ancestors, where are they? And the prophets, do they live for ever?
6But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your ancestors? So they repented and said, ‘The LORD of hosts has dealt with us according to our ways and deeds, just as he planned to do.’
7 On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo; and Zechariah* said,
8In the night I saw a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen; and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses.
9Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’
10So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘They are those whom the LORD has sent to patrol the earth.’
11Then they spoke to the angel of the LORD who was standing among the myrtle trees , ‘We have patrolled the earth, and lo, the whole earth remains at peace.’
12Then the angel of the LORD said, ‘O LORD of hosts, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which you have been angry these seventy years?’
13Then the LORD replied with gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.
4So the angel who talked with me said to me, Proclaim this message: Thus says the LORD of hosts; I am very jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion.
15And I am extremely angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was only a little angry, they made the disaster worse.
16Therefore, thus says the LORD, I have returned to Jerusalem with compassion; my house shall be built in it, says the LORD of hosts , and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem .
17Proclaim further: Thus says the LORD of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity; the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.
18 *And I looked up and saw four horns.
19I asked the angel who talked with me, ‘What are these?’ And he answered me, ‘These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.’
20Then the LORD showed me four blacksmiths.
21And I asked, ‘What are they coming to do?’ He answered, ‘These are the horns that scattered Judah , so that no head could be raised; but these have come to terrify them, to strike down the horns of the nations that lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people.’*