When your country has been invaded, its defenses torn down, and its capital city burned with fire, you probably need some hope. When your people have finally returned to the land, attempt to rebuild the main city and main religious center, you will probably be quite uncertain as to what will happen next.

That is the scenario which Zechariah finds himself in. The Israelites are back in the land after seventy years of exile. Now rebuilding must commence. Both Jerusalem with its walls and the temple lay wasted. So what will happen next in Israel’s history? Will Israel survive? Will the temple be rebuilt? Those are the questions that Zechariah 1:7-17 deals with.

Scene One: A Man on a Horse

[7] Three months later, on February 15, the Lord sent another message to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah and grandson of Iddo. [8] In a vision during the night, I saw a man sitting on a red horse that was standing among some myrtle trees in a small valley. Behind him were riders on red, brown, and white horses. [9] I asked the angel who was talking with me, “My lord, what do these horses mean?” “I will show you,” the angel replied. [10] The rider standing among the myrtle trees then explained, “They are the ones the Lord has sent out to patrol the earth.” [11] Then the other riders reported to the angel of the Lord, who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have been patrolling the earth, and the whole earth is at peace.”

Zechariah receives a vision from God at night. Essentially, he sees an army in a valley. That must have been a pretty unnerving for Zechariah! “Was this army going to attack Israel?” he may have thought. The meaning of the vision is that the army of horses were God’s agents who patrolled the earth. The idea of patrolling the earth signifies God’s sovereignty over human affairs.

The agents find “the whole earth is at peace.” Probably, the “whole earth” refers to the Persian Empire which was in control of Israel at the time. The Persian Empire was at peace, while the exiles of Israel were laboring under intense distress. Yet, in the midst of such discouraging news, Zechariah can take some hope because the army is not set to destroy Israel. Rather, they give the report of their patrol.

Scene Two: The Lament—How Long, O Lord?

[12] Upon hearing this, the angel of the Lord prayed this prayer: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, for seventy years now you have been angry with Jerusalem and the towns of Judah. How long until you again show mercy to them?” [13] And the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. [14] Then the angel said to me, “Shout this message for all to hear: ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: My love for Jerusalem and Mount Zion is passionate and strong. [15] But I am very angry with the other nations that are now enjoying peace and security. I was only a little angry with my people, but the nations inflicted harm on them far beyond my intentions.[16] “‘Therefore, this is what the Lord says: I have returned to show mercy to Jerusalem. My Temple will be rebuilt, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and measurements will be taken for the reconstruction of Jerusalem.’[17] “Say this also: ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: The towns of Israel will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem as his own.’”

Upon hearing the report, the angel of the Lord (who is probably also the man on the red horse), laments, “How long until you again show mercy to [Israel]?” The pagan nations are prospering while God’s people suffer. How long will that last?

God gives hope to Zechariah. One day, He will turn His affection back toward His people and they will be restored.

When will these things take place? It’s difficult to know with certainty, but the text probably has a near and a far fulfillment. In a real sense, God did allow the temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. And many Jews did return back to Jerusalem. And yet, these promises look for a glorious restoration beyond the time of the first return from exile.

The glorious restoration, however, also occurs in two “parts” if you will: an already fulfillment with the coming of Jesus, and a not yet fulfillment at the end. Christ is the true temple (John 2:21; 4:14, 21-24). And now, all those united to Christ by faith are already part of God’s temple (Eph. 2:21; 1 Pet. 2:5).

And yet, we have not received the fullness of our salvation. We long for the New Jerusalem—symbolic of God’s glorious presence—to come down out of heaven and rest upon the earth, so that all the earth becomes God’s glorious temple.

So Zechariah 1:7-17 is all about hope. We can have hope in God’s promises. He will bring restoration. And that restoration has begun in and through Jesus Christ.

4 thoughts on “How Long, O Lord? (Zechariah 1:7-17)

  1. Great word Chris! It’s interesting thinking about a different story of an angel proclaiming hope and salvation than the familiar story in Luke that we recite this time of year, but both ultimately center in the person and work of Jesus!

    1. That’s an interesting connection to the Advent story. I guess that raises the broader question in my mind as to whether Luke purposefully echoed early Scripture like Zechariah 1, or if–for lack of a better term–the connections are merely “coincidence”?

  2. Hey Chris, Peter B’s Dad here. Saw the link to this post on his FB. What a great word for me today so thanks! Also saddened to hear of the loss of your son Lazarus but grateful for the hope we have in Christ and your faith in the promises of God. Joel B

    1. Thanks for the kind words! It’s been a hard time, but I feel like the Lord has sustained us through it, and even tonight, Heather and I were talking about how much deeper our relationship has become through the suffering. How is ministry in Vermont? We are back in NJ, I am a pastor at a church here.

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