We not come to visions and revelations of the Lord; for in that way God chose to speak by Zechariah, to awaken the people’s attention, and to engage their humble reverence of the word and their humble enquiries into it, and to fix it the more in their minds and memories. Most of the following visions seem designed for the comfort of the Jews, now newly returned out of captivity, and their encouragement to go on with the building of the temple. The scope of this vision (which is as an introduction to the rest) is to assure the Jews of the care God took of them, and the eye of his providence that was upon them for good, now in their present state, when they seem to be deserted, and their case deplorable. The vision is dated (Zech. 1:7) the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, three months after he preached that sermon (Zech. 1:1), in which he calls them to repentance from the consideration of God’s judgments. Finding that that sermon had a good effect, and that they returned to God in a way of duty, the assurances he had given them are confirmed, that God would return to them in a way of mercy. Now observe here,
I. What the prophet saw, and the explication of that. 1. He saw a grove of myrtle-trees, a dark shady grove, down in a bottom, hidden by the adjacent hills, so that you were not aware of it till you were just upon it. This represented the low, dark, solitary, melancholy condition of the Jewish church at this time. They were over-topped by all their neighbours, buried in obscurity; what friends they had were hidden, and there appeared no way of relief and succour for them. Note, The church has not been always visible, but sometimes hidden, as the woman in the wilderness, Rev. 12:6. 2. He saw a man mounted upon a red horse, standing in the midst of this shady myrtle-grove. This man is no other than the man Christ Jesus, the same that appeared to Joshua with his sword drawn in his hand as captain of the host of the Lord (Josh. 5:13, 14) and to John with his bow and his crown, Rev. 6:2. Though the church was in a low condition, yet Christ was present in the midst of it. Was it hidden by the hills? He was much more hidden in the myrtle-grove, yet hidden as in an ambush, ready to appear for the seasonable relief of his people, to their happy surprise. Compare Isa. 45:15; Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, and yet Israel’s God and Saviour at the same time, their Holy One in the midst of them. He was riding, as a man of war, as a man in haste, riding on the heavens for the help of his people, Deut. 33:26. He rode on a red horse, either naturally so or dyed red with the blood of war, as this same victorious prince appeared red in his apparel, Isa. 63:1, 2. Red is a fiery colour, denoting that he is jealous for Jerusalem (Zech. 1:14) and very angry at her enemies. Christ, under the law, appeared on a red horse, denoting the terror of that dispensation, and that he had yet his conflict before him, when he was to resist unto blood. But, under the gospel, he appears on a white horse (Rev. 6:2; 19:11), denoting that he has now gained the victory, and rides in triumph, and hangs out the white, not the bloody flag. 3. He saw a troop of horse attending him, ready to receive and obey his orders: Behind him there were some red horses, and some speckled, and some white, angels attending the Lord Jesus, ready to be employed by him for the service of his church, some in acts of judgment, others of mercy, others in mixed events. Note, The King of the church has angels at command, not only to do him honour, but to minister for the good of those that are his. 4. He enquired into the signification of this vision. He had an angel talking with him, as his instructor, besides those he saw in the vision; so had Ezekiel (Ezek. 40:3), and Daniel, Dan. 8:16. Zechariah asked him (Zech. 1:9), O my Lord! what are these? And, it should seem this angel that talked with him was Christ himself, the man on the red horse, whom the rest were attendants on; to him immediately Zechariah addresses himself. Would we be acquainted with the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, we must make our application, not to angels (they are themselves learners), but to Christ himself, who is alone able to take the book, and open the seals, Rev. 5:7. The prophet’s question implies a humble acknowledgment of his own ignorance and an earnest desire to be informed. O let me know what these are! This he desired, not for the satisfying of his curiosity, but that he might be furnished with something proper for the comfort and encouragement of the people of God, in their present distress. 5. He received from the angel that talked with him (Zech. 1:9), and from the man that stood among the myrtle-trees (Zech. 1:10), the interpretation of this vision. Note, Jesus Christ is ready to instruct those that are humbly desirous to be taught the things of God. He immediately said, I will show thee what these are. What knowledge we have, or may have, concerning the world of spirits, we are indebted to Christ for. The account given him was, These are those whom the Lord has sent: they are his messengers, his envoys, appointed (as his eyes are said to do, 2 Chron. 16:9) to walk, to run, to fly swiftly through the earth, to observe what is done in it and to execute the divine commands. God needs them not, but he is pleased to employ them, and we need the comfort arising from the doctrine of their administration.
II. What the prophet heard, and what instructions were thereby given him. Faith comes by hearing, and, generally, in visions there was something said.
1. He heard the report or representation which the angels made to Christ of the present state of the world, Zech. 1:11. They had been out abroad, as flying posts (being hastened by the King of kings’ commandment, Est. 3:15), and, having returned, they give this account to the Angel that stood among the myrtle-trees (for to the Lord Jesus angels themselves are accountable): We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold all the earth sits still and is at rest. We are taught to pray that the will of God may be done by men on earth as it is done by the angels in heaven; and here we see what need we have to pray so, for it is far from being so. For, (1.) We find the world of angels here very busy. Those that are employed in the court above rest not day nor night from praising God, which is their business there; and those that are employed in the camp below are never idle, nor lose time; they are still ascending and descending upon the Son of man (John 1:51; as on Jacob’s ladder, Gen. 28:12); they are still walking to and fro through the earth. Thus active, thus industrious, Satan owns himself to be in doing mischief, Job 1:7. It is well for us that good angels bestir themselves as much to do good, and that here in this earth we have guardians going about continually seeking to do us a kindness, as we have adversaries which, as roaring lions, go about continually, seeking to devour us. Though holy angels in this earth meet with a great deal that is disagreeable, yet, while they are going on God’s errands, they hesitate not to walk to and fro through it. Their own habitation, which those that fell liked not, they will like the better when they return. (2.) We find the world of mankind here very careless: All the earth sits still, and is at rest, while all the church is made uneasy, tossed with tempests and not comforted. Those that are strangers to the church are secure; those that are enemies to it are successful. The Chaldeans and Persians dwell at ease, while the poor Jews are continually alarmed; as when the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city Shushan was perplexed. The children of men are merry and jovial, but none grieve for the affliction of God’s children. Note, It is sad to think what a deep sleep the world is cast into, what a spirit of slumber has seized the generality of mankind, that are under God’s wrath and Satan’s power, and yet secure and unconcerned! They sit still and are at rest, Luke 17:26
2. He heard Christ’s intercession with the Father for his afflicted church, Zech. 1:12. The angels related the posture of affairs in this lower world, but we read not of any prayers they made for the redress of the grievances they had made a remonstrance of. No; it is the Angel among the myrtle-trees that is the great intercessor. Upon the report of the angels he immediately turned heavenward, and said, Lord, wilt thou not have mercy on thy church? (1.) The thing he intercedes for is mercy; as Ps. 85:7; Show us thy mercy, O Lord! Note, God’s mercy is all in all to the church’s comfort; and all his mercy must be hoped for through Christ’s mediation. (2.) The thing he complains of is the delay of this mercy: How long wilt thou not have mercy! He knows that mercies through him shall be built up for ever (Ps. 89:2), but thinks it long that the building is deferred. (3.) The objects of compassion recommended to the divine mercies are, Jerusalem, the holy city, and the other cities of Judah that were now in ruins; for God had had indignation against them now threescore and ten years. He mentions seventy years because that was the time fixed in the divine councils for the continuance of the captivity; so long the indignation lasted, and though now for a little space grace had been shown them from the Lord their God, to give them some reviving (Ezra 9:8), yet the scars of those seventy years’ captivity still remained so deep, so painful, that this is the melancholy string they still harp upon—the divine indignation during those seventy years. Dr. Lightfoot thinks that whereas the seventy years of the captivity were reckoned from Jehoiakim’s fourth year, and ended in the first of Cyrus, these seventy years are to be computed from the eleventh of Zedekiah, when Jerusalem and the temple were burnt, about nineteen years after the first captivity, and which ended in this second year of Darius Hystaspes, about seventeen years after Cyrus’s proclamation, as that seventy years mentioned Zech. 7:5 was about nineteen years after; the captivity went off, as it came on, gradually. “Lord, we are still under the burden of the seventy years’ wrath, and wilt thou be angry with us for ever?”
3. He heard a gracious reply given to this intercession of Christ’s for his church; for it is a prevailing intercession, always acceptable, and him the Father heareth always (Zech. 1:13): The Lord answered the angel, this angel of the covenant, with good words and comfortable words, with promises of mercy and deliverance, and the perfecting of what he had begun in favour to them. These were comfortable words to Christ, who is grieved in the grievances of his church, and comfortable to all that mourn with Zion. God often answers prayer with good words, when he does not immediately appear in great works; and those good words are real answers to prayer. Men’s good words will not feed the body (Jas. 2:16), but God’s good words will feed the faith, for saying and doing with him are not two things, though they are with us.
4. He heard that reply which was given to the angel repeated to himself, with a commission to publish it to the children of his people, for their comfort. The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to him he signified to his servant John, and by him to the churches, Rev. 1:1, 4. Thus all the good words and comfortable words of the gospel we receive from Jesus Christ, as he received them from the Father, in answer to the prayer of his blood, and his ministers are appointed to preach them to all the world. Now that God would speak comfortably to Jerusalem, Zechariah is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord. The voice said, Cry. Cry then. The prophets must now cry as loudly to show God’s people their comforts as ever they did formerly to show them their transgressions, Isa. 40:2, 3, 6. And if he ask, What shall I cry? he is here instructed. (1.) He must proclaim the wrath God has in store for the enemies of Jerusalem. He is jealous for Zion with great jealousy, Zech. 1:14. He takes himself to be highly affronted by the injuries and indignities that are done to his church, as he had been formerly by the iniquities found in his church. The earth sat still and was at rest (Zech. 1:11), not relenting at all, nor showing the least remorse, for all the mischief they had done to Jerusalem, as Joseph’s brethren, who, when they had sold him, sat down to eat bread; and this God took very ill (Zech. 1:15): I am very sorely displeased with the heathen, that are at ease, and have no concern for the afflicted church. Much more will he be displeased with those that are at ease in Zion (Amos 6:1), with Zion’s own sons, that sympathize not with her in her sorrows. But this was not all; they were not only not concerned for her, but they were concerned against her: I was but a little displeased with my people, and designed to correct them moderately, but those that were employed as instruments of the correction cast off all pity, and with the greatest rage and malice helped forward the affliction and added to it, persecuting those whom God had smitten (Ps. 69:26) and insulting over those whom he had troubled. See Isa. 47:6; Isa. 10:5; Ezek. 25:12, 15. Note, God is displeased with those who help forward the affliction even of such as suffer justly; for true humanity, in such a case, is good divinity. (2.) He must proclaim the mercy God has in store for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, Zech. 1:16. He must cry, “Thus saith the Lord, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercies. I was going away in wrath, but I am now returning in love. Cry yet to the same purport,” Zech. 1:17. There must now be line upon line for consolation, as formerly there had been for conviction. The Lord, even the Lord of hosts, assures them, [1.] That the temple shall be built that is now but in the building. This good work which they are now about, though it meet with much discouragement, shall be perfected, and they shall have the tokens of God’s presence, and opportunities of conversing with him, and worshipping him, as formerly. Note, It is good news indeed to any place to hear that God will build his house in it. [2.] That Jerusalem shall again be built as a city compact together, which had formerly been its glory, Ps. 122:3. A line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem, in order to the rebuilding of it with great exactness and uniformity. [3.] That the nation shall again become populous and rich, though now diminished and impoverished. Not only Jerusalem, but other cities that are reduced and lie in a little compass, shall yet spread abroad, or be diffused; their suburbs shall extend far, and colonies shall be transplanted from them; and this through prosperity: they shall be so numerous, and so wealthy, that there shall not be room for them; they shall complain that the place is too strait, Isa. 49:20. As they had been scattered and spread abroad, through their calamities, so they should now be through their prosperity. Let thy fountains be dispersed, Prov. 5:16. The cities that should thus increase God calls his cities; they are blessed by him, and they are fruitful and multiply, and replenish the land. [4.] That all their present sorrows should not only be balanced, but for ever silenced, by divine consolations: The Lord shall yet comfort Zion. Yet at length, though her griefs and grievances may continue long, God has comforts in reserve for Zion and all her mourners. [5.] That all this will be the fruit of God’s preventing distinguishing favour: He shall yet choose Jerusalem, shall renew his choice, renew his covenant, shall make it appear that he has chosen Jerusalem. As he first built them up into a people when he brought them out of Egypt, so he will now rebuild them, when he brings them out of Babylon, not for any worthiness of theirs, but in pursuance of his own choice, Deut. 7:7, 8. Jerusalem is the city he has chosen, and he will not cast it off.