Zechariah 1:7-17 On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo. During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses. I asked, “What are these, my lord?” The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.” Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.” And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.”
Then the angel of the Lord said, “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’
“Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the Lord Almighty.
“Proclaim further: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’”
Reflection Three months later Zechariah begins to recount his visionary experiences. The first occurs at night, so perhaps it describes a dream, or some kind of spiritual insight, understood as divine communication. It is as though he looks into the realm of God, envisaged as a vast garden inhabited by various angels (messengers) who traverse it on horses to carry out God’s will.
Zechariah reports that he could observe and overhear what was happening in this heavenly realm. One of the angels functioned as a divine intermediary, interpreting his experiences into messages that Zechariah was to proclaim to the community in Jerusalem.
Horses will reappear in the final vision of the series. Here they signify God’s ability to know all that takes place on earth through heavenly messengers who can travel everywhere speedily and report back. News that the world is ‘at peace’ (v.11) is less positive than it suggests; a better translation might be ‘remaining quiet’. Verse 15 indicates God is angry at the nations because the status quo is being maintained; doing nothing actually compounds the problem.
Zechariah’s message offers hope to his audience. God was taking action on behalf of Jerusalem, the consequences of exile were coming to an end. God’s presence would be experienced again through a rebuilt temple and God’s compassion would bring restoration and wellbeing across Judah once more.
It is much easier to read of God’s compassion than God’s anger. I wonder, though, do we ever fail to act in righteous ways on behalf of hopeless or downtrodden people because it’s easier to do nothing; and thereby displease God? Do we ever suggest that we are trusting God to resolve a problem, when in truth we are abdicating our own responsibility as Christians to fulfil God’s purposes on earth? Are we angering God by inactivity?
Prayer All seeing God, you know where things need to change and where apparent calm undermines your loving purposes. Save us from becoming complacent or believing that we can simply leave the situation to you. Give us eyes to see the needs in our world as you see; and inspire us to act with righteous anger wherever injustice prevails. May we work to establish true peace, in the name of Christ. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister living in Cambridgeshire; she is a member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.