The Book of Zechariah-Part 3

By: Dr. Michael Stallard; ©2002
This article deals with the Vision of the Horses given in Zechariah 1:7-17. This is the first of eight night visions received by the prophet Zechariah.


The Book of Zechariah—Part 3

This article is the third in a series of articles designed to give a brief commentary on the prophetic portion of the Old Testament known as the book of Zechariah. In particular, this article will deal with the Vision of the Horses given in Zechariah 1:7-17. These verses describe the first of eight night visions of the prophet (1:7-6:15). According to verse seven, these visions were all given to Zechariah about three months after the words of the intro­duction in verses 1-6 (see Part 2).

The actual vision that Zechariah receives is found in 1:8-13. Verses 14-17 provide a kind of interpretation of the earlier verses as Zechariah is told what to proclaim to Jerusa­lem and Israel in light of what he has seen and heard. The gist of the vision is that Zechariah sees a man riding on a red horse standing among some myrtle trees located in a ravine. Behind the man, as he sits on the red horse, are other horses (presumably with riders) of red, brown (sorrel, NASB), and white.

In the vision itself there are several personages that must be explained. First, Zechariah sees a man riding on a red horse standing among the myrtle trees (v. 8). The identification of the man is made clear as the vision progresses. He is none other than the angel of the LORD. That he is the angel of the LORD can be shown two ways in the passage. First, the description in verse 8 that he is standing (astride his red horse) among the myrtle trees is also used to describe the angel of the LORD in verse 11. Second, his position ahead of the other riders demonstrates his position of authority. Yet the other riders report to the angel of the LORD according to verse 11. Some commentators take the angel of the LORD here to be a Christophany, that is, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. Regardless of this identification, the angel of the LORD (i.e., the man on the red horse) talks to the LORD of hosts Himself (v. 12). The color red for the horse, which the man rides, probably refers to war and blood, a common association in the biblical text (cp. Rev. 6:4).

Second, a group of many other riders of horses is implied in the text. They ride on red, brown, and white horses behind the man on the red horse showing their subservience to him (v. 8). These riders are no doubt angelic creatures sent out by God. In response to Zechariah’s question about them, he is told that they are “those whom the LORD has sent to patrol the earth” (v. 10). In verse 11 they report to the angel of the LORD that they have accomplished this duty and can report “the earth is peaceful and quiet.” The colors of the horses may also have some meaning in this context. The red horses as before point to­ward war and blood. The white horses most likely picture the idea of victory (cp. Rev. 6:1- 2; 19:11). The designation “brown” for some of the horses (NIV) is a difficult word. The idea may be “speckled” or mixed in color and may represent a combination of red and white, that is, an in-between color, to correspond to the entire spectrum from the negative of war and blood to the arrival of victory.

A third personage is the interpreting angel who is in the vision. This interpreting angel dialogs with Zechariah calls him “the angel who was speaking with me” (v. 9, 13, 14). This interpreting angel is also present throughout the other night visions in the book of Zechariah (1:19; 2:3; 4:1, 4-5; 5:5, 10; 6:4). The Bible student should not confuse this interpreting angel with the angel of the Lord, the rider on the red horse.

The fourth personage in this vision is the LORD Himself. It is His word that comes to the prophet in the vision (v. 7). He is the One who sends out the riders on the various horses to patrol the earth (v. 10). He is addressed as the “LORD of hosts” (i.e., the LORD of the armies) in conversation by the angel of the LORD (v. 12). He is the one who gives the interpreting angel the final words of comfort that lead Zechariah to understand the point of the vision (v. 13-17).

The final personage is, of course, Zechariah the prophet. He is the one who receives the word of the Lord (v. 7). He asks the interpreting angel to help him understand what he sees (v. 9). Finally, he is commanded to proclaim the message of consolation, which God gives as the clear message of the vision (v. 14ff.).

Other images in the vision must also be explained. The man who rides the red horse is standing astride his horse among the myrtle trees in a ravine or deep place (v. 8). In general, this portrayal may refer to the presence of myrtle trees in the Kidron Valley which runs between Mount Zion and the Mount of Olives on the east of Jerusalem. If so, this would add significant weight to the picture in the minds of Zechariah’s audience since that valley is the traditional place for the judgment and resurrection and the site of Israel’s restoration along with the judgment of the nations as predicted by Joel 3:1-21. The myrtle tree, a large evergreen, existed in abundance in Palestine and was used by the post-exilic Israelites in their celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (see Neh. 8:15). In particular, the myrtle tree symbolizes Israel in this context while the ravine or deep place may point to the degradation of the nation as Zechariah speaks to his post-exilic contempo­raries. However, the lovely fragrance of the myrtle also brings to mind the sweetness with which God still views His people. This is the essence of the vision: God will one day restore his chosen nation from its lowly place to full restoration and fulfillment of the prom­ises which He has given down through the centuries.

The necessity for this picture of restoration is reinforced by the negative observation of the men (angels) on horses (v. 8) who are patrolling the earth (v. 10-11). This holy recon­naissance team reports to the man on the red horse “all the earth is peaceful and quiet” (v. 11). This would be unlike the world’s usual state of strife and conflict and would be in harmony with the state of affairs in that part of the world under Darius at that time. While this is perhaps a positive development for the Persian kingdom, it no doubt leaves a bad taste in Israel’s mouth. Daniel during the exile had spoken of the progression of the world kingdoms that would eventually issue into the ultimate and final restoration of the Davidic kingdom under the Son of Man (Dan. 7). As part of that progression the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity would be done away. While the captivity no longer exists for Zechariah’s audience, they still look at a nation whose city needs rebuilding and whose Temple is not finished. The atmosphere brought on by the circumstances alone is anything but positive with respect to the nation’s future. Consequently, the angel of the LORD responds to the report of the angelic patrol with an intercession to the God of heaven: “O LORD of hosts, how long wilt Thou have no compassion for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which Thou hast been indignant these seventy years?” (v. 12).

The answer to this prayer highlights the point of the vision. The LORD gives to the interpreting angel gracious and comforting words, which Zechariah was to pass on to the post-exilic nation (v. 13-14a). These words can actually be listed as a four-fold declaration:

God is jealous for Israel, that is, He has a zeal for that nation above the other na­tions (v. 14b);
God possesses anger against those nations who have tried to afflict Israel (v. 15; note: by way of application even today this should give any people pause if they have a mind to hurt the nation of Israel);
God’s mercy will return to Jerusalem (v. 16a). This mercy is demonstrated in two ways. First the post-exilic temple would be rebuilt (v. 16b). Second, the city of Jerusalem would be rebuilt just like the temple (v. 16c; the “measuring line” probably implies the surveying and building of the city);
All the towns of the nation will eventually prosper (v. 17). Note that this statement is made emphatic by the reminder that this promise is given by the LORD Almighty).

The entire vision may be summarized by the last statement given to Zechariah: “the LORD will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem” (v. 17c). Just as the exilic Jews needed the messages of Daniel and Ezekiel, the contemporary Jews of Zechariah’s day needed to hear the words that God had given him so that they could live in hope that God had not abandoned his unconditional promises to them and their nation.

Read Part 4

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