Angels on horseback
God says it’s time to come home1It was autumn when the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah. He was the son of Berechiah and grandson of Iddo. This happened when Darius had been king of Persia for almost a year and eight months. The LORD told Zechariah, 2“I’m angry with the previous generations of your people.
3I want you to deliver a message. Tell the people: The LORD of everyone has this to say: I am the LORD of all people everywhere. Come back to me and I will come back to you. 4Don’t be like your ancestors. Prophets told them, ‘The LORD of everyone says: “Stop your constant sinning.”’ But the people ignored me.
5Those people are dead now. So are the prophets. 6Yet in time, didn’t my orders finally hit home with your ancestors? They eventually repented. They said, “The LORD held us accountable for what we did, just as he had said he would.”
Angels on patrol7Three months later, The LORD came back to Zechariah, son of Berechiah and grandson of Iddo. Darius was a few days away from his second anniversary as king.
8I, Zechariah, had a dream about a man sitting on a red horse in the shade of some myrtle trees. Others were with him, on horses red, brown, and white. 9I asked, “Sir, why are they here?” The angel said, “I’ll tell you.”
10Still in the shade of the myrtle trees, he said, “The others here have been patrolling the earth for the LORD.” 11One of them reported, “We have covered the earth and all is quiet.”
12The LORD's angel who spoke with me began pleading with the LORD, “How long are you going to let Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah suffer? Isn’t 70 years long enough Isn’t it time for the LORD of all people to show mercy to his own people?”
13The LORD answered the angel with kind and comforting words.
14So, the angel told me, “Deliver a message. Say that the LORD of people everywhere wants everyone to know this: I care deeply about Jerusalem and Mount Zion. 15I was angry with the nations of the world, which are enjoying a time of peace. But they made things worse for themselves by overdoing your punishment. I’m angrier than ever at them.
16So, I’m going to show mercy to Jerusalem. And I’m going to see to it that my house, Jerusalem’s Temple, is rebuilt. People will stretch out their measuring lines and size up the work ahead.” 17The angel on the horse also told me to deliver these words from the LORD of all people: “My cities will flourish again, and prosper. The LORD will comfort the people of Jerusalem. He will make the city his own again.
God dehorns powerful nations18Suddenly, I saw four animal horns. 19I asked, “What are those?” The angel said, “That’s the power of the nations that scattered the people of Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”
20The LORD then showed me four blacksmiths. 21I asked, “What are they doing here?”
The angel said, “Smitties are coming to show the livestock who’s boss. Nations that stampeded Judah and tore it apart with their horns are going to get dehorned and defeated.
Bible scholars set the date in October or November of 520 BC. That’s about 66 years after Babylonian invaders conquered the last Jewish kingdom, Judah, and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BC. Babylonians from what is now Iraq exiled the Jewish leaders and prominent citizens. But Persians from what is now Iran later defeated Babylon and freed the Jews, who began returning home in 538 BC.
The contract agreement between God and Israel stipulated that God would deport the Jews for breach of contract (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).
The date was more literally Day 24, Month 11 in Darius’ second year as king.
More literally, it was a “vision of the night.” Bible writers sometimes described how God got his inspiration or messages to the prophets through dreams, sometimes called “visions of the night” (Job 33:14). But in daylight, they were often described as a trance (Acts 10:10).
The Hebrew word describing the man is malak. It can mean: messenger, human ambassador, angel, messenger from God. Many Bibles translate the word as “angel.” But if this is a dream, a vision of the night, it might not seem to matter because the dream isn’t about the messenger. It’s about the message.
Literally “angel of the LORD.” This isn’t just another angel. This is one who seems to report directly to God. This angel shows up throughout the Jewish Bible. Sometimes the angel sounds like God himself. In Genesis 22:15-16, “the LORD’s angel” said, “I am the LORD.” But in Zechariah 1:12 the LORD’s angel pleads with God.
This seems to suggest Zechariah had read Jeremiah’s prophecy, written a generation earlier. Jeremiah said the Jews would serve Babylon for 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11). Seventy is a number that symbolized a lifetime. The number also shows up in ancient Middle Eastern texts, which say 70 years is how long gods punish people.
“Zion” is a term of endearment, and another name for Jerusalem or the hill on which Jerusalem sits. “Zion” is a bit like “The Big Apple” for New York City and “The City of Love” for Paris.
Prophets had said God would use the Assyrians and the Babylonians to punish Israel and Judah.
Horns often represented power. Jews were mainly farmers and herders, and they knew how powerful the horns of a bull could be. That may be one reason horns came to represent strength.
Assyrians erased the northern Jewish nation of Israel in 722 BC by deporting the leaders and others who survived the war, so they couldn’t rebuild Israel. Babylon did the same to the southern Jewish nation of Judah more than a century later, in 586 BC. Then, 50 years after Babylon crushed Judah, Persians from what is now Iran defeated Babylon. They freed most political prisoners and told them to go home and rebuild their cities. Many Jews did just that. Others stayed where they had grown a new generation of children. The contract between God and Israel warned that God would deport the Jews for breach of contract (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).
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