Zechariah was a prophet of the Lord who was ministering in Jerusalem at the same time as Haggai, which was when some of the Lord’s people had returned from the exile in Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. In the first chapter of Zechariah’s book, the Lord summoned the people living in Jerusalem to return to him. They had returned to Jerusalem, but they needed to return to the Lord: to turn from their sins and to walk in his ways. Return to me, the Lord said, and I will return to you. And according to verse 6 of chapter 1, the people heard the word of the Lord and they repented. They confessed that the Lord was right and he had done to them what they deserved. And they were now ready to obey him once again.
And in the second part of chapter 1 we had the first of eight night visions which Zechariah received from the Lord. We call them his night visions, because, according to verse 8 of chapter 1, Zechariah received the first one during the night and we believe he received all eight of them during the same night. And in the first night vision, Zechariah saw the Angel of the Lord who appeared as a man on a horse and there were other riders with him. They had gone throughout the world and had found the whole world at rest and in peace. But while the pagan nations were at rest and in peace, God’s people were still living under the power and authority of a foreign king and they were still waiting for the Lord to deliver them from the hand of their enemies and to give peace and prosperity to Jerusalem. And so, the Angel of the Lord said to the Lord Almighty: ‘How long, O Lord?’ How long before you show mercy to Jerusalem and Judah? And after the Angel of the Lord interceded on behalf of Jerusalem, the Lord Almighty spoke kind and comforting words about Jerusalem. And he promised to return to Jerusalem with mercy; and he promised that the temple and the city would be rebuilt; and he promised to bless his people in Jerusalem and Judah. Once he had rejected them, but now he will choose Jerusalem again. It will be his city and he will dwell there with his people.
And so, the first night vision was about how the Angel of the Lord interceded for Jerusalem and how the Lord responded to his intercession and promised to bless Jerusalem once again. And many Christian interpreters believe the Angel of the Lord is none other than God the Son. Before he came to earth as one of us, he visited the earth in the form of an angel. And he revealed himself to be the mediator between God and sinners, because in that first night vision, he appealed to God on behalf of the Israelites. And that’s what he continues to do for us from his place in heaven, because, having died on the cross to pay for our sins, he was raised from the dead and he ascended to heaven where he makes intercession for us and for all his people, asking God the Father to show us mercy and to pardon our sins and to give us the help we need. And because of Christ, who lived and died for us, we can come to church and hear kind and comforting words and words of peace and hope, because he has made peace for us with God by his life and death and resurrection.
Today we come to the second and third night visions which Zechariah received. In the second vision he saw four horns and four craftsmen. And in the third vision he saw a man with a measuring line who was on his way to measure Jerusalem. Since these are visions, the emphasis is on what Zechariah saw rather than on what he heard, although, of course, he often heard things as part of the vision. And the point of these two visions was once again to bring a message of hope to God’s people, living in Jerusalem in the days of Haggai and Zechariah. However, the things Zechariah saw were not only about his own day, but they were also about what would happen later and, indeed, what will only happen when Christ comes again.
Night Vision #2
And so, according to verse 18 of chapter 1, Zechariah looked up. And what did he see? Four horns. Horns in the Bible are usually symbols of power and strength. Think of a wild deer standing among the trees in some remote part of Scotland perhaps, with large antlers. And he uses those antlers, his horns, like a sword to defend itself from its rivals. Or think of a rhino, lowering its horn-topped head and charging at its enemies. Horns in the Bible are a symbol of strength. And in Zechariah’s vision, after he saw the four horns, he asked the interpreting angel, ‘What are these?’ We met this interpreting angel in chapter 1. He’s there to help Zechariah understand what the visions mean. And on this occasion, the interpreting angel explained to Zechariah that these four horns are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem. In other words, the horns symbolise those powerful nations and kings who had taken the Lord’s people into exile.
Now, we normally associate the exile with the Assyrians and the Babylonians. The Assyrians took the northern tribes of Israel away into exile; and then the Babylonians took the southern tribe of Judah into exile. However, the commentators are generally agreed that the four horns represent, not just the Assyrians and the Babylonians, but every nation and power which rose up against God’s people. The fact that there are four of them perhaps means they have come from the four corners of the earth: from the north and south and east and west. Many nations had been hostile to God’s people and all of them are represented by these four horns. And, of course, even though the people had begun to return to Jerusalem, they were still an oppressed people, because they were still part of the mighty Persian Empire and a foreign king still ruled over them. And if you remember the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, you’ll know that even when the people returned to rebuild the city and temple, it was not straightforward and they had many enemies who oppressed them.
But Zechariah did not only see four horns. He also saw four craftsmen. And when he saw them, he asked, ‘What are these coming to do? So, have these craftsmen come to make something or to repair something? What have they come to do? And it’s presumably the interpreting angel who replies; and first he says something more about the horns. The horns scattered Judah. That is, they symbolise those nations and kings who oppressed God’s people so that none of God’s people were able to raise their heads. This is an image which conveys how they had been defeated by their enemies and totally subjugated. Their heads were lowered in defeat and submission. They were also lowered in humiliation, because when we’re humiliated, we look down to the ground in shame. So, mighty and powerful nations have defeated and humiliated God’s people. However, the craftsman have now come to terrify those mighty nations and to throw down the horns of those nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah.
So, the craftsman have come to cut the horns down to size or to remove them completely. Think of that wild deer again; and the groundskeeper comes along and saws its antlers off. Think of a rhino; and the zookeeper removes its horn. Or think of a dog without its teeth or a snake without its fangs. What was once frightening is frightening no more. What was once powerful is powerful no more. And so, the Lord is sending craftsmen to cut the horns which give the nations their strength. We don’t know who these craftsmen represent, but presumably they represent other nations and powers which the Lord was going to send against those nations who once oppressed his people. And though the Lord was once angry with his people for their waywardness, so that he sent the Assyrians and Babylonians and others to punish them, nevertheless now he was angry with the other nations for the way they had abused his people. And he was going to cut off their power and humble them.
It’s a reminder to us that the Lord God Almighty is the true King who rules in heaven over all that he has made and all the nations are in his hands so that he raises up one and tears down another; he exalts and he humbles. The nations are like a drop in the bucket to him; they’re like dust on the scales. He can do what he wants with them and none is able to resist him. Every nation is in his hands and each one is accountable to him for what they have done. And while the people of the world may rise up against God’s people to oppress and persecute us, we know that we are not on our own, because the Lord is watching over us to help and protect us. For a while, during the time of the exile, the Lord let the nations oppress his people, so that their heads were bowed in humiliation. But when the time was right, the Lord cut their enemies down to size and those powerful nations which we read about in the Bible are now no more, whereas God’s people — the church of Jesus Christ — continues to exist in the world. And though the church in our generation may suffer at the hands of an unbelieving world, we know that in the end, those who set themselves up against the Lord and his people will be overthrown, whereas he will keep his people and shield them by his mighty power. Christ our King, who sits enthroned in heaven, far above every power and authority, rules over all things for the sake of his people and he will help us whenever we’re oppressed, so we should always trust in him and look to him to guard us. And he will see to it that all his enemies will be destroyed, whereas his people — all who have trusted him and have entered his kingdom — will live for ever.
Night Vision #3
After seeing the four horns and the four craftsmen, Zechariah looked up again and this time, in verse 1 of chapter 2, he saw a man with a measuring line in his hand. Builders use a measuring line when they’re building a house to may out where the walls will go. And Zechariah asked this man with the measuring line, ‘Where are you going?’ And he replied and said that he was going to measure Jerusalem to find out how wide and how long it is.
The commentators discuss who this man with the measuring line might be. It’s not very clear, but some think he represents the returning exiles who have come to Jerusalem and who want to repair its temple and its wall. And with the measuring line in his hands, he’s trying to work out the extent of the task that lay before him. You know, if the walls are so long, then they’ll need so many bricks and so much mortar and so many men. So, let’s measure the walls of the city to see how many workers we need and how many supplies. We want to rebuild the city and so we need to know how big a job it will be. In that case, the man is on his way to measure the city.
And then we read in verse 3 that the interpreting angel left Zechariah for a moment and another angel appeared and went out to meet the interpreting angel. Who is this second angel? The text doesn’t tell us, but there’s a good reason for thinking that the second angel is the Angel of the Lord. And the reason for thinking the second angel is the Angel of the Lord is because when he speaks, he speaks for the Lord; and the things he says are the word of the Lord. And if he is indeed the Angel of the Lord, then that means this second angel is God the Son. As I’ve said, before he came to earth as one of us, God the Son visited the earth in the form of an angel to proclaim God’s word and to accomplish God’s purposes.
Recently at the midweek, we were thinking about the doctrine of the Trinity and how the one God we worship exists in three persons, because there’s the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. All three are God, but they are not three separate Gods, because they are one God in three persons. And the truth that God is a Trinity became clear at the time of the incarnation, when God the Father sent his only begotten Son into the world as a man; and the Son was conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. All three persons were involved in the incarnation. And throughout the New Testament, God revealed that he is three persons. And now that we have God’s fuller revelation of himself in the New Testament, we’re able to see hints of the Trinity in the Old Testament and especially where we read about the Angel of the Lord who sometimes appears to be sent from God and who sometimes appears to be God. Sometimes, as in chapter 1, he speaks to God; and sometimes, as in this chapter, he speaks for God.
And so, this second angel, who we think is the Angel of the Lord and therefore God the Son, went out to meet the interpreting angel. And the Angel of the Lord told the interpreting angel to run after the man with the measuring line to give him a message. And the message contains three promises about Jerusalem. Firstly, in verse 4, Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of men and livestock in it. The man with the measuring line was going to measure Jerusalem to find out how wide and long it was. He was perhaps assuming that, when the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt by the returning exiles, it would be the same size of the old one. So, measure what remains of the walls to see what size the city used to be, because it’s not going to be any bigger than it once was. But here’s the Angel of the Lord saying that the city won’t have walls, because it will be ever-expanding, with more and more people and animals living in it. He’s promising that the limits of the city will keep growing so that whatever walls were once there will not be able to contain the ever-increasing population.
Secondly, and this is verse 5, the Angel of the Lord said:
I myself will be a wall of fire around it, declares the Lord.
So, there you have the Angel of the Lord speaking on behalf of the Lord as if they are one and the same. And the point of this promise is that a city without a wall would normally be an easy target, because without walls to protect the city, anyone could come against the city and plunder it. Who wants to live in a city which is exposed to danger? But the residents in this city will not be exposed to danger, because the Lord himself will be its wall. Think of the time when the Egyptians were chasing the Israelites who had fled from Egypt. And to keep his people safe from the Egyptians, when they were waiting to cross the Red Sea, the Lord moved the pillar of cloud between them so that it was like a wall between them to protect his people. Or think of that story of Elisha in 2 Kings 6, when the King of Aram sent horses and chariots and a strong army to capture the prophet. And Elisha’s servant was afraid until the Lord opened his eyes and enabled him to see the chariots of fire which the Lord had sent to protect them. Well, here’s the Angel of the Lord promising that the Lord will be a wall of fire around Jerusalem to protect his people.
And the third promise contained in the Angel’s message is that the Lord will be Jerusalem’s glory within. That’s at the end of verse 5. Think of the glory-cloud in the days of Moses which signified the presence of the Lord with his people. When the people saw that glory-cloud, they knew that God was with them. And so, when the Lord promises to be Jerusalem’s glory within, he means that he will dwell with them.
And so, in the vision, the Angel of the Lord told the interpreting angel to tell the man with the measuring line that, in the future, Jerusalem will be an ever-expanding city; and the Lord will surround it with a wall of fire; and he will dwell there with his people. Now, in the years after the people returned from exile, the population of the city of Jerusalem did grow and the boundary of the city was enlarged. However, by this vision the Lord was foretelling something else, something greater, because the city of Jerusalem in the Old Testament symbolises the church of Jesus Christ. And the church of Jesus Christ is like an ever-expanding city, because it’s growing around the world through the reading and preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the reading and preaching of the gospel, sinners are convinced and converted to faith in Christ and they’re added to his ever-expanding church. So, think of the book of Acts and how the church began in Jerusalem and it expanded outward into all the nations as the apostles went from place to place to bear witness to Jesus Christ and to his life and death and resurrection for sinners.
And, of course, though the church is often persecuted and oppressed and in danger, the Lord has promised to protect his church and to guard his people by his mighty power. He is a wall around us, so that no one can harm us unless he wills it.
And God is present with his people, because whenever we gather for worship, we are meeting in the presence of God, who ministers to us by word and sacrament to build us up in our faith. And he is present with each of us personally because he lives in his believing people by his Spirit.
And so, the Lord’s vision to Zechariah of an ever-expanding Jerusalem which is protected by a wall of fire and where God dwells with his people is an announcement of God’s plan for the church which will continue to grow until Christ comes again and which is shielded by his mighty power and where he dwells with us by his Spirit. But it is also an announcement of our final state, because we know that in the end God will dwell with his people in the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city. He will fill that city with his glorious presence. And in that city, which is surrounded by a strong wall, his people will be kept safe for ever and for ever and there will be no one and nothing to hurt us. And it will be a vast city, comprising a great multitude of people from every nation of the world.
However that’s not the end of Zechariah’s third night vision. And while it’s not altogether clear, I think the rest of this message is spoken by the Angel of the Lord, because at times the speaker speaks for the Lord and at other times the speaker says that he has been sent by the Lord. For instance, at the end of verse 6, he’s speaking for the Lord. But then, at the end of verse 9, he says that they will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me. So, the rest of this message is spoken by the Angel of the Lord, who is God the Son.
And in verse 6 there’s the command to flee from the land of the north. He’s referring to the land of Babylon, where the Lord’s people had been exiled. And so, it’s a command to leave Babylon. And the point is that they were to come out of Babylon, that pagan land, and return to Jerusalem, the city of the Lord. And this is the Lord’s command to his people in every generation, because he summons us to separate ourselves from an unbelieving world and to live our lives for Christ our King as members of his church. While we go on living in the world, we’re tempted to become just like our unbelieving neighbours and to think like them and to live like them, and to adopt the same attitudes and values that they have. We’re tempted to rely on the wisdom of the world instead of the wisdom of God which is revealed in his word. And in his word, and through the preaching of his word, God calls on us to separate ourselves from the unbelieving world, not physically, but mentally and ethically, so that the way we think about our life will be shaped by God’s word; and the way that we live our life will be shaped by God’s word.
That’s in verse 6. In verses 7 to 9 the Angel of the Lord summons Zion to escape from Babylon. Zion was another name for Jerusalem. And so, although many of God’s people were still living in Babylon at that time, he still refers to them as Zion because that’s where they really belong. Though they’re living in Babylon, they belong in Zion. And now you need to escape from Babylon, because Babylon is destined for destruction.
While the details of these verses are a bit obscure, what is clear is that the Lord regards his people as the apple of his eye. That is, he regards his people as the pupil of his eye, which is vulnerable and needs to be protected. And so, the Lord is committed to protecting his people; and he — the Angel of the Lord — will surely raise his hand to punish the nations who oppressed his people. When he says in verse 9 that their slaves will plunder them, he means that those who were once Babylon’s slaves will plunder Babylon. And sure enough, when God’s people began to rebuild the temple and walls of Jerusalem, the pagan kings paid for the work out of their own treasury. It was as if the Israelites had plundered them. But this part of Zechariah’s vision points forward to the day when Christ will come in glory and with power to destroy every power and authority and every person who stood against him and his people in this life. Though it may seem to them that they will never answer for what they have done, the day will come when they must answer to Christ the King for what they have done.
And finally, in verses 10 to 13, the Angel of the Lord, speaking on behalf of the Lord, summons God’s people to shout and be glad. In other words, rejoice. Why should they rejoice? Because the Lord is coming to dwell with them. And many nations will come to the Lord and they will become God’s people too. And the Lord will inherit Judah, which means the people will belong to God as his possession. And since they belong to him, he will protect them and keep them safe. And whereas he once rejected Jerusalem, because of their sinfulness, he will once again choose Jerusalem to be his dwelling place.
And so, this is a command to the people in Zechariah’s day to rejoice before the Lord, because he has not abandoned them, but he’s going to bless them once again. But it’s also an announcement of God’s plan to draw sinners from every nation into his church. No longer would salvation be restricted to the Jews alone, but salvation would be offered to people in every nation. And men and women and boys and girls from every nation will be drawn to Christ to believe in him for the forgiveness of their sins and for the hope of everlasting life. And whoever believes in Christ is added to his church, where God dwells by his Spirit; and they can look forward to everlasting life in the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city, which is made up of believers from every nation and tribe and people and language; and God’s glorious presence will fill that city.
When we wonder what is happening in the world, and when we wonder what will happen to the church, which is often oppressed and persecuted and which appears so weak and insignificant, and when we think about how there are few who believe and there are many who despise us for what we believe, we should remember and believe that God has a plan, which he announced in the past through prophets like Zechariah, a plan to build his church on the earth, a plan to include in his church people from every nation and a plan to bring his church into the glory to come. And so, we needn’t be afraid and we needn’t worry or panic when the church seems weak, because we know that what God has promised will certainly happen, because he is Mighty God and no one is able to thwart his plans. And so, we should remain faithful to him in our daily lives and pray that he will do all that he has promised which is to build his church on the earth and to bring us at last to our eternal home.
And the vision ends with a summons to all mankind to be still before the Lord. The Hebrew word translated ‘mankind’ can also be translated ‘flesh’ and it speaks of our natural weakness. Though we like to think we are strong, we are very weak and powerless. But the Lord will rouse himself from his holy dwelling place in heaven and he will come to earth to accomplish his plan for the church. We have seen his plan for the church, but we have no power ourselves to accomplish it. But the Lord is almighty and he can do it. He has already begun the work, because in the past he sent his Son into the world to live and die and rise for us. And he who has begun a good work will surely bring it to completion. And so, we should wait for him to do what he has promised. And we should pray for it, asking him to rise up and to do all that he has promised.