JERUSALEM: Infamous End or Glorious Destiny?
Discouragement was the mood of the day. Disappointment was in the heart of every Jew. They were disillusioned. If God himself had let them down, where could they turn? Was there nothing ahead but disaster and doom? This was the attitude of that small band of Jewish people who had returned to the city of Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity.
Eighteen years earlier, this little group of refugees had returned to their city, their hearts overflowing with joy and gladness. With great expectation they had begun to clear the rubble of the horrible destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Within seven months the Levitical sacrificial system had been restored. In the second month of their second year back in the land, they had valiantly laid the foundation of the Temple (Ezra 3:8).
Things had been going well. The work was progressing. Then, the axe fell! The adversaries in the land conspired against the Jews to keep them from building the Temple on the foundations already laid. By force, they were made to stop their work (Ezra 4).
Eighteen long years passed, and no more construction was done on the Temple. They were about to give up hope of ever rebuilding the Temple. Things could not get much worse. Had they returned to the land in vain? Was there no future for them and their beloved city of Jerusalem? Their God had remained silent. How much lower could their spirits go?
It was at this point that God raised up two prophets with a message for these disheartened people. First, “old blood and thunder” Haggai came upon the scene. His message was short, but not sweet. He cried, “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your paneled houses, and this house [the Temple] to lie waste? . . . Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house . . .” (Hag. 1:4,7b, 8). Get on with the job, was his cry, as he challenged the people. The Lord was with them, and the Temple could be completed. However, his ministry only lasted about three months.
Two months after Haggai began his short-lived ministry, the Lord raised up the Prophet Zechariah. His message was to last longer. It would bring hope and encouragement to the people. No, God had not forgotten Jerusalem, the Temple, or the people of Israel.
To encourage this Jewish remnant, the Lord gave Zechariah eight distinct and different visions all in one night. These make up the first six chapters of the book that bears his name. He gave them a concise overview of all that lay ahead for Jerusalem. The first vision is found in Zechariah 1:7-17.
THE MAN RIDING ON A RED HORSE
I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, sorrel, and white (Zech. 1:8).
Although the rider is not identified at this point in the passage, the impression is given that there is something special about him. The words, “behold a man,” in the Hebrew, dramatically focus attention upon this rider on the red horse, giving the impression that he is a superhuman being.
What is occurring can be seen by comparing this passage with Revelation 6, where, in prophetic form four horsemen are pictured, each representing something different. In Revelation 6:4, a red horse is seen with a rider sitting upon it. “And there went out another horse that was red; and power was given to him that sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another . . .”
The prophetic symbolism of the red horse is that of war. When this horse enters the scene, peace will be removed from the earth; fighting will break out all over; there will be universal slaughter; war will be the order of the day.
Now the meaning can be grasped from the vision God gave Zechariah. The prophet encouraged the Jews to get on with the task of building the Temple. By prophetic imagery, he showed Israel an angelic host led by the rider on the red horse. This one, along with his host, was ready to fight for the little band of Jewish refugees who had returned to Jerusalem.
THE MYRTLE TREES IN THE BOTTOM
The rider of the red horse is located among the myrtle trees. These trees, rarely more than eight feet high, are quite common in Israel. They flourish best in low-lying, well-watered areas. They have glossy, shiny leaves and produce a star-shaped white flower. Though a lowly tree, when the leaves are crushed, they emit a very sweet fragrance. The myrtle tree is a picture of Israel – beautiful in God’s sight, and when crushed or persecuted giving forth a rich fragrance.
The myrtle trees were in a bottom or glen, obviously a low place. On the east, west and south of the ancient city of Jerusalem, there are three valleys. To the east and running south is Kidron. To the west running south is the Tyropoeon valley. Both of these valleys empty into the valley of Hinnom, sometimes called Gehenna. The point at which the valleys of Kidron and Hinnom meet was called, in the ancient world, “the bottom.” It was often referred to as the hollow, or “the king’s garden” (2 Ki. 25:4).
Catch the picture of the disappointed and disillusioned Jewish people of Zechariah’s day. Their desire to build their Temple had again been destroyed. Discouragement was their lot. They were now huddled in that “bottom.” From this low point, they were looking up at the Temple mount, wondering what their end would be. Through the Prophet Zechariah, the Lord gave them their first word of encouragement in eighteen years. They were not alone in that valley. There was a superhuman being riding a red horse who was ready to do battle for them.
WHO IS THE RIDER
In verse eight he is called “a man.” Then, in verse ten, the prophet speaks about the other horses and horsemen who are behind him. They are angelic beings who have been brought to the valley to give a brief on worldwide conditions. “All is at rest,” they reported.
But, to whom did these riders reply? According to verse 11, “. . . they answered the angel of the Lord that stood among the myrtle trees . . . .” The man riding the red horse is now described as “the angel of the Lord” (v. 12), and in verse 13, he is called “the Lord.” The rider on the red horse is God in the flesh. He is Israel’s Messiah in preexistent form, ready to do battle for these Jewish people who had almost given up. The Lord had not forgotten them. He was there to accomplish His will and purpose among them.
THE PROMISES TO ISRAEL
Zechariah was given “good words and comforting words” (v. 13) concerning the Jew and Jerusalem.
The Lord is Jealous for Jerusalem (v. 14)
Zechariah was told to cry out his message from the hilltops: “I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.” The original Hebrew word for jealous comes from an Arabic word meaning to be red or black. The idea behind the word is that of a person being so angry and furious that he turns red in the face. Further, the Hebrew word has the connotation of love and hatred linked together. How can this be? The best explanation concerns the family. I love my wife and family so much that I would hate anything or anyone who tried to do them harm. Through the Prophet Zechariah, the Lord is letting His discouraged people of that day know He stands behind them, as well as with them; He is not yet finished with them; His purposes for them will be accomplished; He is furious with the enemies of Israel.
The Lord is Displeased with the Gentile Nations (v. 15)
Nearly seventy years prior to the appearance of Zechariah, Israel had been steeped in heathen idolatry. The former prophets had promised she would go into captivity because of this. God used the heathen or Gentile nations to bring this about; however, these nations had now overstepped their bounds. They had not only brought about the captivity, but had massacred and plundered the Jewish people far beyond the limits God had set. Furthermore, they were smug and complacent about it.
It Is clear from the first vision that the Lord had put His Messiah-Jesus in preexistent form among the Jews, and He was ready to fight for them. God was jealous for Jerusalem and was displeased with the Gentile nations. This alone would have been a tremendous encouragement to this disappointed, disillusioned and discouraged remnant. But, God was still not finished with His first message.
The Lord is Returned to Jerusalem with Mercies (v. 16)
To a struggling remnant, harassed by their enemies on every side, this promise must have been a great encouragement. God had now “returned to Jerusalem with mercies.” They could see the Lord’s presence with them through the rider on the red horse. God had returned to Jerusalem and would pour out His mercies upon them. Discouragement was dispelled. Disillusionment was gone. God had not forgotten them.
The Lord’s House Shall be Built in It (v. 16)
The Temple would be rebuilt. Within four years of the prophecy of Zechariah, the people rallied to his challenge. Zerubbabel completed his Temple upon the very stones of the foundation laid eighteen years before; however, this would only be a partial fulfillment of the prophecy. The final fulfillment will not be realized until the construction of the Temple which Ezekiel saw and which is portrayed in Ezekiel 40-42. The Prophet Isaiah also saw the same thing in chapter two of the book bearing his name.
The Lord Shall Stretch a Line Upon Jerusalem (v. 16b)
Whenever a builder prepares to construct something, he always uses a tape measure to lay out the job. Only after he has completed the measurements can he begin the work. In this verse God is promising that the boundaries of the city of Jerusalem will be measured so it can be rebuilt. Within eighty years, Nehemiah would be raised up to fulfill this promise. He would complete the building of the walls, and the city would be built up again within them.
Imagine the exultation of that discouraged Jewish remnant in Jerusalem as the prophet told them what the Holy Spirit had revealed to him. The visions came at night, but joy would come in the morning, as the people heard the news from the lips of the sleepless prophet. Hope was not gone! They were not to give up! They would see the restoration of their beloved city.
The Lord’s Cities Through Prosperity Shall Yet Be Spread Abroad (v. 17)
God promised prosperity, blessing and growth to the Jewish people of Zechariah’s day. However, the rebuilding of the walls and the Temple and the overflowing of the prosperity that came with it would be short-lived. In a few hundred years, it would all be gone again.
This prophecy has a dual fulfillment. It also speaks of a day yet future, when there would be another Temple, a Millennial one (Ezek. 40-48), with God dwelling in the midst of it. The future of Jerusalem is secured in the promises of God. That which the people of Zechariah’s day saw is nothing in comparison to what a future generation shall yet see.
The Lord Shall Yet Comfort Zion and Choose Jerusalem (v. 17b)
Comfort is coming! The meaning of comfort is to treat with the most tender affection. The seventy-year captivity was over, and God would now bless His people.
Yet, even this will not compare with the way God’s love for Israel will go into action when they are finally converted (Zech. 12:10). Jerusalem will be the city of His choice. His Messiah-King, Jesus, of the line of David, will rule. It will be the Lord’s city and will truly be what her name proclaims – the city of peace.
To the Jewish remnant of Zechariah’s day, God had given comfort in this first of eight visions. He had not forgotten them; He had provided the Messiah to fight for them; there would be deliverance; they would return to Jerusalem and the Temple would be rebuilt. Yet, beyond all these temporary blessings there was and is a great future for the believing Jew and the city of Jerusalem.
Oh, pilgrim today, are you discouraged, disappointed, disillusioned and perhaps even downhearted? If God would not forget His covenant promises and could bless Israel, He will not forget you. Lift up your weary soul, claim the promises of the Lord and rest in Him.