We start reading the book of Zechariah today. The prophet Zechariah did his work around the same time as Haggai. His first prophecy is dated in 520 BC – “the second year of Darius,” who was the king of Persia at that time.
So Zechariah’s aim was much like Haggai’s – to see the people return to the work of the nation of Israel. For Haggai, that meant getting the people moving again on rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. For Zechariah, that seems to mean getting the people ready again to worship in the temple.
As we move through Zechariah, we will see that he writes about some visions he was given by God about how God was at work in the world. Zechariah also records some very clear prophecies about Christ.
As I read Zechariah 1, I was struck by the demands of God that the people “return” to him. Repentance is a necessary step in salvation. That is, we turn from our sinful ways and seek God. Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
God noted the “fathers” of the Israelites had not returned to God. “Your fathers, where are they?” That was a rhetorical question. Most likely, for those listening to Zechariah’s message, their forefathers were dead – or they were scattered across the old Babylonian empire. Their “fathers” had refused to return to God’s ways, and so they were punished.
We have a just God. We have a holy God. He’s immeasurably more holy than we are. And I know we as Christians like to dwell on the loving nature of our heavenly Father. And we are right to dwell on that. But we ought not to forget God’s holiness and justice. God’s grace is so amazing because his holiness is so amazing. God does judge sinners. And that judgment is something to fear.
Because of the Israelites’ disobedience, God sent first the Assyrian army and then the Babylonian army to conquer them. The walls of Jerusalem were torn down, and the temple was destroyed. The people were carried off into captivity. That is severe justice. And in Zechariah, the people admit they deserved it. “As the Lord of hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us.”
Read Deuteronomy 28, starting at verse 15, to understand how strongly God felt about disobedience from his people. It paints an awful picture. God is holy, and he demands holiness from his people.
And what’s so interesting to me is God’s punishment on Israel – the exile of the people and the destruction of their towns and the temple – was just the result of a “little” anger from God.
We see this in Zechariah’s first vision – of the man sitting on a red horse among the myrtles. Some scholars think this vision was of the Kidron valley outside Jerusalem, where myrtle trees grew. Other horses were present as well in this vision. They represented a “patrol” responsible for going throughout the world, observing it. This patrol returned with a report that all the world was “at rest.” This seems like a good report.
Only it wasn’t. God was displeased by the work of the other nations in bringing God’s punishment upon Israel. “And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster.” God was angry “but a little” as he sent his people into exile? That’s what it’s like for God to be angry “but a little?” I would hate to see the fullness of God’s anger.
But God also was angry with the nations who brought his judgment to Israel. They went too far in their harsh treatment of the Israelites. The following vision that Zechariah received – of the four horns and the craftsmen – talks about God’s judgment on those nations, which certainly would have included Assyria and Babylon, which had been defeated by Zechariah’s day.
God is just. He also is in control. The movements of the nations carry out God’s purposes for his people – a people through whom he planned to bless the whole world (Genesis 12:1-3). In Zechariah, God reaffirms the covenant he made with Israel – the children of Abraham – by saying, “Cry out again, Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.”
Good things were coming again to God’s people.
As I read Zechariah 1, I was drawn to the first vision – the picture of “a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen.” If you’ve been a Christian for very long, your mind likely will jump to the book of Revelation and the “four horsemen of the Apocalypse” (Revelation 6:1-18).
In Zechariah, I pictured a man sitting on a red horse, among the trees in a glen. It was a peaceful picture. But behind it is something fierce and holy and just. God was about to bring judgment on the nations who were opposed to Israel. And he was about to enter into Jerusalem itself and its newly rebuilt temple. He was going to bring prosperity to his people.
I think I want to hang out in this peaceful scene among the myrtle trees with God, without truly understanding the fullness of who God is. God is holy. Isaiah took one look at the holiness of God and thought he would die (Isaiah 6:1-6). Job heard God and put his hand over his own mouth and refused to speak (Job 40:4-5). The Proverbs tell us “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).
Spend some time today dwelling on the holiness of God and on his judgments. Spend some time considering what it means for God to be ultimately good and to not tolerate any measure of evil or sin. And God is the creator of the universe. He is sovereign. What he decides is final.
I don’t think we can have an adequate picture of God’s grace without an adequate picture of God’s holiness. The fierceness of God’s holiness is what makes the good news so GOOD.